Annal: 2004 Whitbread Book Award for Poetry

Results of the Whitbread Book Award in the year 2004.



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:Ghosts (John Fuller)


John Fuller

Ghosts is John Fuller’s fifteenth collection of poetry. In it he reckons with his own mortality, writing poems about the deaths of people he has known and the births of grandchildren, at the same time as looking forward to the time when he too will pass on. As always in his poetry, there is a probing into the meaning of life, a wonderfully melodic personal dialogue in which the poet asks and attempts to answer in the course of a poem some of life’s more mysterious questions. But such philosophical musings are always anchored in beautifully concrete, atmospheric and sensual detail: a man sitting thinking in front of an open fire hugging his “kneehump”; the bodies of the men and women who threw themselves out of the twin tower windows floating outwards like ghosts, hovering between life and death.

As with his last collection, Now and For a Time (2002), these poems have a wonderful universality, with the language and thought perhaps more accessible than Fuller has been in the past. But at the same time, they are utterly distinctive and personal, with imagery that surprises and fills the reader with admiration at every turn.

Book:Ground Water

Ground Water

Matthew Hollis

In this sparkling debut, Matthew Hollis immerses us in the undercurrents of our lives. Love and loss are buoyed by a house full of milk, an orchard underwater, the laws of walking on water. Rainwater, floodwater, flux—the liquid landscapes which shift relentlessly in Ground Water—threaten and comfort by turns.

Matthew Hollis’s poems are brimming with courage in adversity as well as the promise of renewal, culminating in a powerful sequence about his father’s struggle with terminal illness. Ground Water is a startling first collection from a remarkable new poet.

Book:These Days

These Days

Leontia Flynn

These Days represents one of the most strikingly original debuts in recent years. A Gregory Award winner, Leontia Flynn—still in her twenties—writes about Belfast and the north of Ireland with a precision and tenderness that is completely fresh. While her subject matter ranges from memories of childhood to the instabilities of adulthood, from the raw domestic to the restless pull of “elsewhere”, her theme throughout is a search for physical and mental well-being, for a way to live a life. A number of exquisitely moving poems about her father highlight her extraordinary gifts: her exact ear, her heightened, filmic sensibility, her bittersweet tone—all of which combine in poems that are accessible but not obvious, witty and serious, delicate but tough, and always surprising.

These Days is not simply a first book of great promise; it marks the arrival of a new, exciting and important voice. “The morning after Ruth’s going-away party the state of this place is its witness, like Pompeii. The needle snags on the record and then snags again and Karen Carpenter sings we’ve only, we’ve only just begun.”

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