Annal: 2004 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Results of the T.S. Eliot Prize in the year 2004.

Book:Reel (George Szirtes)

Reel

George Szirtes

In this new collection, the exile’s obsessive quest for the nature of humane truth is the focus of poems of visionary sweep which pan out across a life.

Memory is film in Reel: a film-crew shoot Budapest for Berlin; faces float like light on the sea; names appear and disappear on a search engine. George Szirtes reconstructs childhood from a confusion of memories, photographs and stories in which men and women change places and fathers multiply. There are sequences on love, desire and illusion, poems about political loyalties, and poems that form ghost texts shadowing other writers.

Book:Afterburner (Peter Porter)

Afterburner

Peter Porter

Following the terrific success of Max is Missing, Peter Porter has produced another book of great power and erudition. Afterburner—the device that provides the extra thrust to a turbojet—is a thoroughly appropriate title for this fuel-injected work. From his lengthening perspective and high vantage, no one is better placed than Porter to give these subtle meditations on art, life and the social mores—and few could manage them with such compassion and humor. Afterburner will further enhance his reputation as one of the finest poets writing in English today.

Book:Blues (John Hartley Williams)

Blues

John Hartley Williams

Subversive and satirical, inventive, wry and unconventional, John Hartley Williams has long been celebrated for his maverick sensibility, for his outsider’s take on the way we live our lives. In Blues, his eighth collection, he focuses with new directness on the turmoil of Germany and Eastern Europe, and writes eloquently about being English, and staying English, in a continental climate, through all the upheavals of the last fifteen years. Alert to the intricacies and ironies of the language, to the musculature of politics and passion, these poems are chronicles of change, wired to the energies of jazz and science fiction, yet the under-song is a threnody for the loss of a kind of Englishness—voiced powerfully in a moving elegy for the poet Ken Smith. While there is no diminishing of his comic brio, no dulling of his incisive, questioning intelligence, Blues finds John Hartley Williams taking on subjects of new depth and complexity—while maintaining his characteristic lightness of touch, imagination and profound originality.

Book:Corpus

Corpus

Michael Symmons Roberts

Corpus—Michael Symmons Roberts’ ambitious and inventive fourth collection—centres around the body. Mystical, philosophical and erotic, the bodies in these poems move between different worlds—life and after-life, death and resurrection—encountering pathologists’ blades, geneticists’ maps and the wounds of love and war. Equally at ease with scripture (Jacob wrestling the Angel in “Choreography”) and science (“Mapping the Genome”), these poems are a thrilling blend of modern and ancient wisdom, a profound and lyrical exploration of the mysteries of the body:

So the martyrs took the lamb.
It tasted rich, steeped in essence
Of anchovy. They picked it clean…[more]
Book:The Full Indian Rope Trick

The Full Indian Rope Trick

Colette Bryce

Colette Bryce’s The Heel of Bernadette was one of the most highly praised new collections of recent years. Her second, The Full Indian Rope Trick—the title poem already the winner of the 2003 National Poetry Competition—sees a leap forward in confidence and range, with Bryce’s dark lyric and darker wit finding many different voices. Whatever subject the poet takes—an Ulster childhood and the child’s growing awareness of her divided community, the surreal life of the natural world, or the more disturbing shadows thrown by our love and desire—it is always addressed with both a compelling emotional candour and an astonishingly musical intelligence.

Book:The Never-Never

The Never-Never

Kathryn Gray

The Never-Never is the dazzling debut collection of poetry by one of the UK’s most distinctive new voices. From joyriders in the rain-lashed back streets and housing estates of Wales, to London, California and beyond, Kathryn Gray gives us compelling tales of love and loss, of friendship, exile and the distant promise of home. At once playful and serious, allusive and direct, her narratives exude formal skill, great feeling and a wicked, erudite wit, making this among the most readable and startling collections of recent years.

Book:The Road to Inver

The Road to Inver

Tom Paulin

The Road to Inver gathers the verse translations of Tom Paulin from four decades, and brings together distinguished versions of classical and European poets which have appeared in his previous collections, from Liberty Tree (1983) to The Wind Dog (1999). But The Road to Inver also includes dozens of new and recent translations from the European cannon; it is at once a new volume of poetry by Tom Paulin and a personal anthology of European poetry, ranging from Horace to Heine and covering a surprising range of French, German, Russian and Italian poets. The Road to Inver is the richest collection of its kind since Robert Lowell’s Imitations.

Book:Snow Water

Snow Water

Michael Longley

The poems collected in Snow Water find their gravity and centre in Michael Longley’s adopted home in west Mayo, but range widely in their attention—from ancient Greece to Paris and Pisa, from Central Park to the trenches of the Somme. Meditations on nature and mortality, there is a depth and delicacy to these poems, a state of lucid wonder, that allows for the easy companionship of love poem and elegy, hymns to marriage and friendship and lyric explorations of loss. Though the embodiment of these themes is often found in the wildlife of Carrigskeewaun and Allaran Point—the plovers and oystercatchers, whooper swans and snow geese, the hares and otters, the marsh marigolds and yellow flags—Snow Water is emphatically a celebration of humanity. These are all, in a way, poems of love and kinship—even the magnificent sequence that links the horrors of the Great War with those of the Trojan War, and with all the wars between. What Longley says of Edward Thomas might easily be said of him: ‘The…[more]

Book:The Soho Leopard

The Soho Leopard

Ruth Padel

Hallucinatory and lyrical, these poems cross Pizza Hut with mating alligators and endangered animal species with stage directions for Beauty and the Beast. Making wild connections over space and time, this new collection displays her gift for getting into the same register areas of life that are normally far apart. Full of wildlife and color, these poems explore new extremes of voice, range, and poetics, linking mythology and zoological science to rich descriptive powers, vivid speaking voice, and passionate, sensual language. Starting from London streets, Soho, and Kings Cross, the poems reach out to the Amazon, Siberia, Mexico, Louisiana wetlands, Mayan myth, ancient Athenian politicians, Tudor England, and the human need for stories. Thoughts turn into music in an enchanted castle, a crocodile-god waves the feather of truth at Judas, and a downloaded Buddha opens his eyes when highlighted on a laptop. The works explore a year of urban fox life, watch a prehistoric storyteller defrosting, hear invisible alligators explain scarring in the human epidermis, all while an elephant embroidered by Mary Queen of Scots nearly—but not quite—touches the spinet played by the woman who executed her.

Book:The Tree House

The Tree House

Kathleen Jamie

For several years now, Kathleen Jamie’s work has addressed two principal concerns: how we negotiate with the natural world, and how we should define our conduct within family and society. In The Tree House Jamie argues—as Burns did before her—for an engagement of the whole being through a kind of practical earthly spirituality. These often startling encounters with animals, birds, and other humans propose a way of living which recognizes the earth as home to many different consciousnesses—and a means of authentic engagement with ‘this, the only world’. Together they form one of the most powerful poetic statements of recent years.

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