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'Super-sonnets' win £10,000 Forward Prize for Poetry

Michael Symmons Roberts
Image caption Each poem in Michael Symmons Roberts' collection adhered to a formal constraint of 15 lines

Michael Symmons Roberts has won the £10,000 Forward Prize for Poetry for his acclaimed collection Drysalter.

Dubbed "super-sonnets" by one critic, the 150 poems are all 15 lines long.

Emily Berry won the prize for best debut collection, while Nick MacKinnon's The Metric System was named best single poem.

The winners were announced at an event in London featuring readings by the actors Samuel West, Helen McCrory and Juliet Stevenson.

West also sat on the judging panel, chaired by writer Jeanette Winterson, alongside journalist David Mills and poets Paul Farley and Sheenagh Pugh.

This year's prize took a controversial turn last month when shortlisted poet CJ Allen withdrew from the competition after admitting to plagiarism in some of his earlier work.

His poem, Explaining the Plot of Blade Runner to My Mother Who Has Alzheimer's, had been up for best single poem.

'Faith and the soul'

Commenting on the winning collection, Winterson said: "We need to be able to talk of matters of faith and the soul, and how the soul intersects with the heart.

"What Symmons Roberts does is difficult but necessary now - it addresses a fissure in the human psyche, how we deal with faith and secularism; how we find a life."

Image caption Emily Berry and Nick MacKinnon were the other prize recipients

"It's called Drysalter partly in response to the old high street traders called drysalters, who were dealers in gums, drugs, poisons and powders," said the Lancashire-born poet.

"The title's also a nod to the psalter, those medieval day-books that contained psalms, but also jokes and cartoons and marginalia."

In her review of Drysalter earlier this year, The Guardian's Kate Kellaway said Symmons Roberts' collection of "super-sonnets" demonstrated his "amazing talent for putting intimacy on paper".

The poet, who is Professor of Poetry at Manchester Metropolitan University, has published five collections of poetry, including Corpus, which won the 2004 Whitbread Poetry Award.

Emily Berry's Dear Boy, a series of darkly witty soliloquies, won the £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection.

"Dear Boy is not bound by the modern, but has an ear to the ground for the pavement beats of life," said Winterson. "We like the confidence of the first person, multiple, reflective and new."

Nick MacKinnon won £1,000 for his poem The Metric System, in which a schoolboy narrator recalls a maths lesson.

The poem begins:

I sucked that milk that Harold Wilson

invested in my infant skeleton,

laced with strontium from Windscale

and Christmas Island. Miss Odell

perched on my radiator, bra-less

in her flower power sundress.

The three winners were announced at a ceremony on Tuesday at the Southbank Centre, two days ahead of National Poetry Day.

Founded in 1992, The Forward Prizes reward both established and up-and-coming poets.

Previous winners of the best collection category include Carol Ann Duffy, the late Seamus Heaney and last year's recipient, American poet Jorie Graham.

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