Annal: 2003 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Results of the T.S. Eliot Prize in the year 2003.

Book:Landing Light

Landing Light: Poems

Don Paterson

Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin
and the true path was as lost to me as ever
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran.
See how the true gift never leaves the giver…
—from “Waking with Russell”

Hailed for its “enormous skill and verve” (The Guardian) and its “seriousness and moral urgency” (The Independent), Landing Light is one of the most important and resonant poetry collections to come out of Britain in recent years. Ceaselessly inquiring, Don Paterson discovers the love of a son, a talking book, the voices of a wreckage left in the black box. In traditional forms, short lyrics, and long narratives, Paterson has crafted—with precision and passion—his most accomplished and spiritual collection.

Book:The Brink (Jacob Polley)

The Brink

Jacob Polley

The debut collection from the poet considered to be the new Paul Farley. Jacob Polley already has a formidable reputation as one of the sharpest and most unusual new voices to have appeared on the scene in many years. Now, with the publication of his first collection, The Brink, readers will have their first opportunity to see his remarkable transforming imagination in action, where a jar of honey is ‘…the sun, all flesh and no bones / but for the floating knuckle / of honeycomb / attesting to the nature of the struggle’, and a gull’s hovering is ‘suddenly akin / to dangling on a coat hook / by the back of a coat you’re still in’.

Book:For and After

For and After

Christopher Reid

For and After is Christopher Reid’s seventh collection of poems. In a series of dedications and translations or “versions”, Reid offers poems “for” friends and loved ones, as well as works “after” such influences as Homer, Aesop, Mallarme, Rimbaud and Baudelaire.

Book:Hard Water

Hard Water

Jean Sprackland

Though firmly rooted in the domestic, natural world, Jean Sprackland’s poems are thrilling excursions into the lives that we live alongside our everyday ones: the lives we are aware of in dreams, in grief, in love. She shows us the vertigo and vulnerability of human experience with great clarity and precision, tenderness and care. These are vivid poems full of light and weather and water—awash with water: a flooded forest, acid rain, an inland tidal wave, an ocean of broken glass; jellyfish washed up on the beach that “lay like saints/unharvested, luminous”.

There is an arresting imagination at work here, one as relaxed and at home in an alternative world of babies in filing cabinets, light collectors or the visiting dead, as it is in the world we think we know: supermarkets, empty flats, the A580 from Liverpool to Manchester.

Lucid, sensuous and informed by an unusually tactile curiosity, the poems in Hard Water mark the assured arrival of an important poet.

Book:Ink Stone

Ink Stone

Jamie McKendrick

The best ink stones are slates from Chinese riverbeds, but in the long history of their use these have all been found. as one expert writes, “the better the stone, the smaller and more consistent the particles will be and the denser the ink”.

These poems by Jamie McKendrick have a remarkable density of ink. They explore the grain, or “tooth” of the natural world with unusual and discomforting detail at the same time as they chart the medium they work in—not only what the eye sees, but the eye itself: its structure and structurings. These poems open onto conflicting perspectives of home and abroad, the domestic and the wild, the natural and the uncanny, elegy and celebration.

Book:The Lammas Hireling

The Lammas Hireling

Ian Duhig

Ian Duhig has long inspired a fervent and devoted following. With the Lammas Hireling—the title poem having already won both the National Poetry Competition and the Forward Prize for Best Poem—Duhig has produced his most accessible and exciting volume to date, and looks set to reach a whole new audience. A poet of lightning wit and great erudition, Duhig is also a master balladeer and storyteller who shows that poetry is still the most powerful way in which our social history—our lives, loves and work—can be celebrated and commemorated.

Book:Manhandling the Deity

Manhandling the Deity

John F. Deane

This is a book full of one God in many aspects, at once strange and intimate, transcendent and physical, Son of the Almighty yet born of woman. The book, sacramentally shaped, follows three ‘offices’ of the church, leading us towards an altar then releasing us, changed, to a world blessed by requiem. The voice that speaks is that of an everyman fallen from grace, who has the temerity to believe in the possibility of belief. In single poems and sequences, metered and free verse, he makes a way towards the window where light shines. Here the Psalms have taken flesh with the weight of passion that King David knew, and the lightening grace that the Catholic mystics attest to. Deane writes a poetry of place and passion.

Book:Minsk: Poems

Minsk: Poems

Lavinia Greenlaw

Minsk is Lavinia Greenlaw’s third collection, and the first since the title poem of A World Where News Travelled Slowly won the Forward Prize for the year’s finest poem of 1997. From London Zoo to an Essex village and the Arctic Circle, Greenlaw explores questions of place—the childhood landscapes we leave behind, those we travel towards, and those like “Minsk” which we believe to be missing from our lives. Greenlaw’s restless, inquisitive tone builds to make Minsk a hypnotic collection from one of the leading poets of her generation.

Book:Nine Horses: Poems

Nine Horses: Poems

Billy Collins

In Nine Horses, Billy Collins, America’s Poet Laureate for 2001–2003, continues his delicate negotiation between the clear and the mysterious, the comic and the elegiac. The poems in this collection reach dazzling heights while being firmly grounded in the everyday. Traveling by train, lying on a beach, and listening to jazz on the radio are the seemingly ordinary activities whose hidden textures are revealed by Collins’s poetic eye. With clarity, precision, and enviable wit, Collins transforms those moments we too often take for granted into brilliant feats of creative imagination. Nine Horses is a poetry collection to savor and to share.

Book:Outliving (Bernard O'Donoghue)


Bernard O'Donoghue

Bernard O’Donoghue’s magnificent fourth collection of poetry explores its title in a series of beautifully wrought poems whose simple elegance belie their complexity. There are moving elegies for people the poet has outlived. There are poems too about living outside the poet’s original environment and the inclination to return there for stories and feelings: the MacNeicean ‘tourist in his own country’, perpetually restive and perpetually homesick. But most important there is ‘outliving’ as in ‘outdoing’, or living a life of higher quality: the drinking of ‘red wine outside in the sunlit squares’ that is accorded to the less privileged—to building site workers or young soldiers who are cannon-fodder in the world’s trouble-spots.

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