One of the very few disadvantages of being far away the centre of things (i.e. London) is that I can’t get to the TS Eliot Prize readings, an annual event that everyone seems to enjoy – not just for the readings but for the social life afterwards.
The final decision will be made this afternoon at an intimate awards ceremony. The contenders are:
Ian Duhig - The Speed of Dark (Picador)
Alan Gillis - Hawks and Doves (Gallery)
Sophie Hannah - Pessimism for Beginners (Carcanet)
Mimi Khalvati - The Meanest Flower (Carcanet)
Frances Leviston - Public Dream (Picador)
Sarah Maguire - The Pomegranates of Kandahar (Chatto)
Edwin Morgan - A Book of Lives (Carcanet)
Sean O'Brien - The Drowned Book (Picador)
Fiona Sampson - Common Prayer (Carcanet)
Matthew Sweeney - Black Moon (Jonathan Cape)
I hope Edwin Morgan wins. He is certainly the greatest living poet never to have won the award and none of the other names on that shortlist can match his life’s output. I realise that the prize isn’t supposed to be a ‘lifetime’s service’ award, but that’s surely what it sometimes is. In any case, A Book of Lives contains many brilliant poems and wouldn’t be an unworthy winner in itself.
I’m not wildly enthusiastic about the shortlist. Four books have to be included – the Poetry Book Society ‘Choices’. Most of the others seem to be Poetry Book Society ‘Recommendations’. Many people are questioning the absence of Daljit Nagra and Luke Kennard, and I’d agree that their collections should be in there. I’d also like to know why Claire Crowther and John Ash weren’t included. Their collections are much stronger and more exciting than most of those books on the list. I also enjoyed new collections by Michael Schmidt, Jane Holland and Steven Waling and can’t see why they are considered inferior either.
Here’s a confession. Two of the books on the list had me yawning, falling asleep (literally), or drifting off to think about other things, including other poems. I couldn’t get anywhere with them. They are among the most boring poetry collections I have ever tried to read. Perhaps I never got as far as the best bits? And yet they could win this year’s TS Eliot Prize. Oh well…
There are some good books on the list too. I’ve read part of Alan Gillis’s collection and it looks excellent. I enjoyed Matthew Sweeney’s Black Moon. What I read of Mimi Khalvati’s collection (in a bookshop) was interesting stuff. So Edwin Morgan does have a little competition…