Edit 15.1.07: The result is now in.
The shortlist for the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize for Best Collection 2006 is now out, and it’s a heavyweight list:
Simon Armitage – Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid
Paul Farley – Tramp in Flames
Seamus Heaney – District and Circle
W. N. Herbert – Bad Shaman Blues
Jane Hirshfield – After
Tim Liardet – The Blood Choir
Paul Muldoon – Horse Latitudes
Robin Robertson – Swithering
Penelope Shuttle – Redgrove’s Wife
Hugo Williams – Dear Room
Breaking it down, we get:
8 men, 2 women.
5 English (Armitage, Farley, Liardet, Shuttle, Williams), 2 Irish (Heaney, Muldoon), 2 Scots (Herbert, Robertson), 1 American (Hirshfield).
4 on Faber and Faber (Armitage, Heaney, Muldoon, Williams), 2 on Picador (Farley, Robertson), 3 on Bloodaxe (Herbert, Hirshfield, Shuttle), 1 on Seren (Liardet).
Who are the favourites? Well, Heaney must start off as favourite, which probably means he won’t win. I don’t think Muldoon will win either, as people seem quite split over his new book. Robin Robertson has already won the Forward Poetry Prize for Best Collection, and so must be a strong contender, but I think the judges might want to share out the annual honours. They might consider giving it to Penelope Shuttle for her collection in memory of her late husband, the poet Peter Redgrove, but the poems I’ve read from it have been uneven. I don’t think they’ll want to give it to an American (Americans have won it before, mind you), even though I think Jane Hirshfield’s collection is excellent. W. N. Herbert’s range will impress the judges on the one hand, but may also lead them to favour someone with a more uniform style.
I haven’t read Simon Armitage’s collection, but I’ve heard it’s one of his best. Still, there is a sense in which many poets aren’t pleased that Armitage is so popular, and perceive him to be, also, populist – rather unfair, I think. That sense may not influence the judges though, and Armitage must have a good chance. Paul Farley’s Tramp in Flames is a dark horse. I’ve only read a few poems from this. They seemed OK, but are they a match for the likes of Heaney? I like the little I’ve read from Tim Liardet’s collection – some very strong writing – but I suspect he’s not yet a big enough name to win. Maybe next time. Hugo Williams produces some strong poems, but some critics feel he is too whimsical, not ‘serious’ enough, which may be unfair too (Williams has won it before, and twice may be at least once too much in the view of some people).
It’s a hard one to call. I haven’t read all the books, so can’t give an informed opinion on who should win.