Caleb Femi, the former young people’s laureate for London, has been shortlisted for one of the prestigious Forward prizes for poetry for his first collection Poor, an exploration of growing up Black in Peckham.
Femi, a former English teacher who took on the laureate role in 2016, is one of five first-time poets in the running for the £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection. Poor combines poetry and photography as Femi sets out, in his words, to “articulate the lives and times of my community of north Peckham”. It includes a poem dedicated to the murdered schoolboy Damilola Taylor, who Femi knew.
Poor is up against debut collections including Alice Hiller’s bird of winter, a work of creative witness to Hiller’s childhood sexual abuse that she began writing aged 50, and Ralf Webb’s Rotten Days in Late Summer, an examination of class, youth and adulthood in the working communities of the West Country. Cynthia Miller’s Honorifics, mostly written during what Miller described as the “heady first-lockdown blur” of last summer, and Holly Pester’s Comic Timing, complete the lineup.