TS Eliot Prize 2013: Shortlist

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Criteria: Awarded each year by the Poetry Book Society to the best new published collection of verse in English first published in the UK or the Republic of Ireland. Since its inception the prize money has been donated by Eliot’s widow Mrs Valerie Eliot, who passed away in 2012. The prize money currently stands at £15,000 with each of the nine other runners-up receiving a further £1000.

(First publication in the UK may include simultaneous publication, within a period of one year, in other countries.)

The shortlist for one of the world’s most coveted poetry awards has been released: the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry awarded by the Poetry Book Society. Inaugurated in 1993 the prize was a celebration of the Society’s 40th birthday and a celebration of the society’s founder – none other than – TS Eliot himself.

Out of 113 books submitted ten were selected to make up the 2013 shortlist by judges and contemporary British poets  Imtiaz DharkerVicki Feaver and chair judge Ian Duhig who had thought it:

an honour to chair the TS Eliot Prize, a pleasure to work with my distinguished fellow judges … and a nightmare to shortlist from so many fantastic books. Congratulations to those poets who made it and those who didn’t, so much of whose work I read with enormous delight and envy.

Not as enlightening as one would hope! I am sure there will be much more press when the winner is announced in the new year. Whoever the winner is, they will join an illustrious rooster of poets such as Nobel Laureates Derek Walcott and Seamus Heaney, and other literary figureheads like Don Paterson, Les Murray, Alice Oswald, Paul Muldon, Ted Hughes and Carol Ann Duffy. Last year, Sharon Olds the first female American poet took home the prize with her collection Stag’s Leap.

The winner will be announced at the Award Ceremony, Monday 13 January 2014, whilst the day previous the Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall will hold venue for the much anticipated and fabulous public TS Eliot Prize Readings, an event that regularly draws more than 2000 people to watch the shortlisted poets, along with the judges, speak – by far one of the largest annual poetry ‘spectacles’ in the UK.

One of the notable highlights of the Poetry Book Society include their Reading Groups downloads which includes a ‘pack’ for each of the shortlisted poets, including three poems from their nominated collections together with biographies, reviews and further information – readers are even able to vote for their favourite collection and win tickets to the Readings, amongst other things, through a competition. Of course the voting is an empty vote and does not have any final sway on the judges but nevertheless what I admire about the Poetry Book Society is its willingness to interact not only with its members but also with people interested in poetry. For people–most people–who do not have time to read through ten collections of electric poetry, these snippets are a wonderful way of not feeling alienated by a prize that deserves to be talked about by everybody.

TS Eliot Prize Shortlist: 

Big names and equally littler names make up the shortlist, and perhaps one of the poetic celebrities on the shortlist is Anne Carson. In 2001 she broke the spell of male winners by becoming the first woman to win the TS Eliot Prize with The Beauty of the Husband. Many people will know the Canadian poet for her contemporary redefinitions of the ideas of poetry and history specifically in, her perhaps most famous work to date, Autobiography of Red, ‘a novel in verse’ depicting the Tenth Labour of Herakles from the viewpoint of Geryon, the monstrous giant turned into an adolescent boy. Just like Autobiography its sequel Red Doc > struggles with similarly that paradox of distant closeness, the past encroaching into the present. Typical of Carson her works are often difficult but they offer to the contemporary reader a departure from poetry that has either become too easy or too esoteric to read – the former certainly being a trait I see in some of the shortlist works, whereas Carson’s balance between postmodernism and classicism is just right, and in my mind she thoroughly deserves to win this year’s prize again.

Another winner of the TS Eliot Prize, Geoge Szirtes returns, after his 2005 collection Reel, with Bad Machines. Born in Budapest, Szirtes’ poetry places him firmly as a writer of post-war literature, his poems often delving into both the mentality and physicality of war, bodies and memories; using poetry he has constructed in his collection dark cities lost in time, and the variety of lives and feelings that inhabit that ancient space of the mind.

At the other end of the spectrum is Helen Mort, a young British poet who has been making steady waves with her poetry. She was the winner of the the 2007 Eric Gregory Award, five times winner of the Foyle Young Poets award, and in 2012 she became the youngest ever poet in residence at The Wordsworth Trust. The eponymous poem ‘Division Street’ is representative of her first full collection, presenting a journey through a ‘muggy Tuesday … the pigeons sleek with rain … the crush of bars’. Her poems deals with love set against the harsh modernity and conflict of the North, where tattoo parlours and streets at night become the scenes of romance, of loss. I would not be surprised, given the momentum behind Mort, to see her add another accolade to her cabinet of awards.

Contrary to what the criteria may connote, the collections are still resoundingly global: Welsh doctor and writer Dannie Abse‘s meditations on loss on loneliness hustles side by side with Lahore-born Moniza Alvi, whose experiences of the partition between India and Pakistan, through the eyes and story of her grandmother, makes up EuropaDaljit Nagra‘s poems have in the past used ‘Punglish’, a mix between Punjabi and English, with his debut collection, Look We Have Coming to Dover, winning the 2007 Forward Prize for Best First Collection. Ramayana is Nagra’s reinterpretation of a Hindu epic that visually is as striking as it is linguistically. Each poem swerves through the narrative, challenging the conventions of form on the page in a way that is refreshingly powerful – Nagra is certainly a favourite, of both mine, and of the British poetry scene. One could denounce that mythology seems to be a common theme this year with poets trying to reinvent, or dredge up, the past. Seamus-Heaney inspired Maurice Riordan writes about the recurrence and significance of the past haunting the present, examining the persistence of archaic words and the emotions that embody them. Literary mythology also forms the backbone for Robin Robertson who explores the elements of human nature through his intertextuality, ranging from Ovid to Goya to Beckett.

Two of the collections have already been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Poetry this year also, and indeed Michael Symmons Roberts eventually became the winner out of a shortlist that also contained Sinéad Morrissey. Robert’s Drysalter, a collection of 150 poems with each poem being only fifteen lines long, aspires to be a bible of ’21st century psalms’, taking the reader across both literal and figurative landscapes. The collection’s strength is evident in Roberts’ prestige as a writer – his poems reflect a quietly powerful evocation of history and kinaesthesia, whilst in Parallax, Morrissey’s fifth collection, the poems are grounded in their malleable examinations of the art of photography and by extension therefore the objects that come to surround and define life.

Further Reading:

More media variations on the same shortlist via the Telegraph, the Guardian, the BBC and the bookseller

Slightly more interesting, quotes or ‘interview‘ from nominee Helen Mort on her shortlisting via the Yorkshire Post

Further information about the prize, and the society, can be found here via the Poetry Book Society

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