Thursday, January 04, 2007

T.S. Eliot Prize 2006 Shortlist

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.


apprentice said...

What a great analysis. I hope Armitage wins.

I heard the Beeb broadcast of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight and enjoyed it more than I thought I would. The new collection seems to show a huge range and I think his look at what it means to be English is very timely and chimes with a mood there to define themselves as something other and more than not Scots, Welsh or Irish.

I find myself feeling sorry for the English. They get a raw deal on many things simply because of the scale of the country, economies of scale don't seem to work, bigger seems to means less on lots of issues, particularly health, law and order and education.

OK off my soap box now!

Matt Merritt said...

I think I agree. His collection is growing on me more and more with re-reading.
I haven't read much of the rest of the list, but I think Robin Robertson would be a very worthy winner too. And although I'm a big fan of Hugo Williams, I'm pretty sure he won with his previous collection, Billy's Rain. Much as I like the new one, it is rather like Billy's Rain 2. I'd say he is unfairly tagged as whimsical, though.
I'm not very keen on Farley's first two collections, but I want to read the Heaney and the Herbert.

Ben Wilkinson said...

An excellent breakdown, Rob: my money's on Armitage; for such a talented and widely-respected poet he hasn't won all that many 'big' poetry prizes (the Forward being the main exception).

Incidentally, I couldn't find your email address, so I'm making a cheeky request public. A new poem of mine is being featured this Friday on Todd Swift's blog 'Eyewear', and I was wondering if you'd mind publicising this on 'Surroundings'? If you could, I'd really appreciate it. Tell me what you think.

Cailleach said...

I think Armitage might get it too!

Nice reading, and makes me want to read the ones I've not got to yet

Roddy said...

This was much discussed tonight on a New Year's piss-up involving 20 poets in London.

Heaney gets my punt.

But it's down to the judges - I'm not sure what G Lewis and S Hannah like. Certainly, as a Gregory judge, Sophie has shown herself an admirer of the unusual / marginal - not what you might expect. But I think she's a fan of Farley too.

Heaney, then or maybe Farley.

I'd give it to WNH - very undervalued.

Rob said...

I also wonder if it might be Simon Armitage's year, although I think Seamus Heaney's collection is very strong.

It would be great if W.N Herbert won. Somehow people don't seem to be as aware of him as many other Scottish writers, but Bad Shaman Blues is an excellent book.

Jane Hirshfield's book is brilliant. I'd like to see her win too. It's quite different from most poetry I read in UK magazines, and I'm not sure whetehr that's in her favour or will go against her.

I'll have to check out Paul Farley's book properly. I've maybe missed something. I've only read a few poems from it. If Heaney, Armitage, and Muldoon are like Chelsea, Arsenal, and Manchester United, Farley reminds me more of Everton. But maybe he'll be like Liverpool under closer inspection. I'll give it a shot.

C. E. Chaffin said...

There's another T. S. Eliot Prize awarded through Truman University in Missouri. I didn't know the English prize was open to Americans, or I would have long since won it, along with the local raffle for a used vacuum cleaner.

Rob said...

Just wait until some publisher picks up on your latest manuscript, CE. Then they'll have no choice but to put you on the shortlist.