Penned in the Margins authors Kennard and McCullough shortlisted in 2021 Forward Prizes

Blog | Published on June 8, 2021

Notes on the Sonnets by Luke Kennard has been shortlisted for the 2021 Forward Prize for Best Collection and ‘Flower of Sulphur’ by John McCullough for Best Single Poem.

In the ‘joyously unclassifiable’ (Guardian) Notes on the Sonnets, Kennard recasts Shakespeare’s 154 sonnets as a series of anarchic prose poems set in the same joyless house party. McCullough’s ‘Flower of Sulphur’ was first published in Poetry London and will be part of his new collection Panic Response to be published in spring 2022.



The Forward Prizes for Poetry are the most influential awards for new poetry in the UK and Ireland, honouring fresh voices alongside internationally established names. The 2021 judging panel was chaired by broadcaster and writer James Naughtie. This is not the first time Penned in the Margins authors have been shortlisted: in 2018 The Perseverance by Raymond Antrobus was shortlisted for Best First Collection, while in 2016 Melissa Lee-Houghton’s poem ‘i am very precious’ (from her book Sunshine) was shortlisted for Best Single Poem.


John McCullough says, “’Flower of Sulphur’ arrived after I’d had a year away from writing owing to ill health. When I returned, I felt suddenly able to tackle areas I’d found too painful to write about before, using experimental forms. It was the first of many such pieces which form the heart of my forthcoming collection, Panic Response.”


Luke Kennard says, “I’m always immediately wracked with doubts about something I’ve written once it’s finished, so it’s just a joy to see it resonating with people, and a massive privilege to be on this shortlist.”

Luke Kennard is the author of five collections of poetry and three pamphlets. His second collection, The Harbour Beyond the Movie, was shortlisted for the 2007 Forward Prize for Best Collection and his fifth, Cain, for the 2017 Dylan Thomas Prize. He lectures in Creative Writing at the University of Birmingham.

John McCullough’s first collection of poems, The Frost Fairs, won the Polari First Book Prize and was a Book of the Year for The Independent as well as a summer read in The Observer. His following collection Spacecraft (Penned in the Margins, 2016), was named one of The Guardian’s Best Books for Summer and shortlisted for the Ledbury Forte Poetry Prize. Reckless Paper Birds (2019) was shortlisted for the 2019 Costa Poetry Award and won the 2020 Hawthornden Prize. He teaches creative writing at the Open University and the University of Brighton.

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