Tuesday, January 13, 2009


Jen Hadfield’s Nigh-No-Place was on my list of 2008 favourites, so I’m delighted that it won the T.S. Eliot Prize last night. It was a surprise result, I think, but a welcome one. Her work is distinctive, impossible to categorise, daring, and packed full of energy.

I reviewed Nigh-No-Place in Magma, issue 41. One thing that stood out for me was Jen’s ability to transform the way we might look on a landscape or object, particularly through metaphor and simile, so often overused or used without much point as a default mechanism in contemporary poetry. Nigh-No-Place contains so many good examples that it’s hard to know what to pick. Here’s a brief quote from my review:

In Prenatal Polar Bear, the bear “hangs in formaldehyde/ like a softmint or astronaut.” In Blashey-Wadder, the narrator crackles in her waterproof “like a roasting rack of lamb.” The wind, set free from its backpack prison in Odysseus and the Sou’wester is “a rising loaf of shuffled feathers/ struggling from the haversack/ like a furious swan.” In Hedgehog, Hamnavoe, the hedgehog is “a kidney flinching on a hot griddle,/ or like a very small Hell’s Angel, peeled from the verge/ of a sweet, slurred morning.”

Definitely a book worth picking up and reading closely.


Frances said...

The 'softmint' is perfect in its place. A surprising but totally apt image I thought.

Rob said...

Yes, I love the softmint. The astronaut too.

According to this report on Jen’s win, Shetland has been mysteriously relocated to England!

Colin Will said...

I love the freshness of Jen's images, and the way she relates place and voice in her work. It's a poetry of surprise, and she's not afraid of using the odd dialect word where that's the only word that fits in a phrase.

It used to be said that Shetland folk felt closer to Westminster than to Edinburgh - don't know if that still applies post devolution. It's a distinctive and wonderful group of islands, however.

apprentice said...

Yes a great win from a really talented poet.

I love the title/list poem too - she is a real original.

Rob said...

I see the Ampersand (at the link I gave in my comment above) no longer thinks Shetland is in England.

David Floyd said...

Really pleased this won.

Her reading on Sunday was very good (in an understated way).

It is my favourite book of the shortlisted books but it's also the only one I've read, which possibly limits the value of my judgment slightly.

Rob said...

I'm in a similar position, David. I'd read small sections from a few of the shortlisted books, and nothing at all from others.

The only other one on the list I'd read all the way through was Robert Crawford's "Full Volume," which was good