Annal: 2006 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Results of the T.S. Eliot Prize in the year 2006.

Book:District and Circle

District and Circle: Poems

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney’s new collection starts “In an age of bare hands and cast iron” and ends as “The automatic lock / clunks shut” in the eerie new conditions of a menaced twenty-first century. In their haunted, almost visionary clarity, the poems assay the weight and worth of what has been held in the hand and in the memory. Images out of a childhood spent safe from the horrors of World War II—railway sleepers, a sledgehammer, the “heavyweight / Silence” of “Cattle out in rain”—are colored by a strongly contemporary sense that “Anything can happen,” and other images from the dangerous present—a journey on the Underground, a melting glacier—are fraught with this same anxiety.

But District and Circle, which includes a number of prose poems and translations, offers resistance as the poet gathers his staying powers and stands his ground in the hiding places of love and excited language. In a sequence like “The Tollund…[more]

Book:After (Jane Hirshfield)

After: Poems

Jane Hirshfield

An investigation into incarnation, transience, and our intimate connection with all existence, by one of the preeminent poets of her generation

Book:Bad Shaman Blues

Bad Shaman Blues

W.N. Herbert

Bad Shaman Blues are what we sing in middle age, when our visions and our virtues seem far away. They also lament the role of contemporary poetry: reached for in trauma, otherwise ignored. The poet as shaman cuts a reduced and comic figure—which immediately suggests W.N. Herbert.

Packing his medicine pouch with classical lyric and barbarian spell, the Scot explores his border territories. Hadrian’s Wall becomes a mirror through which to embark on an absurd shamanic flight to—naturally—Siberia. Bad Shaman Blues is a Through the Looking Glass book, in which the familiar and the foreign confront one another. Sofia and Novosibirsk, Crete and Kolkatta, are all distorted in its hall of mirrors. In the textual underworld of the Scots tradition, literary ghosts are stalked by critical machines.

Herbert’s latest book presents the conventional poetry volume with its doppelganger—dark, destabilising, daft.

Book:The Blood Choir

The Blood Choir

Tim Liardet

Complex and subtle, this new collection of poetry takes its inspiration from the author’s experience teaching poetry in prison. The effect of their severe, restrictive surroundings surfaces in the somber and sometimes violent verses that delve into the emotional lives of the offenders and their victims. In spite of the solemn subject matter, there is still humor and an adroit irony in the lines, reflecting the humanity of the prisoners and the light that can still be found in a dark place. Additionally, the book includes the poet’s paean to his bad back, several pieces inspired by an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, and a long work about a Soviet serial murderer.

Book:Dear Room

Dear Room: Poetry

Hugo Williams

Dear Room is a worthy successor to Billy’s Rain (1999), whose preoccupations and occasions it continues and ramifies, charting the “angles, signals, orders, murmurs, sighs” of love, separation and loss. With grave good humour, ruefully exact timing and a scruple reminiscent of Thomas Hardy, these poems register the goodbye look of things, and ponder the difference between a good memory and an inability to forget. By turns candid, caustic and drastically self-accusing, the many tenses and afterlives of desire are parsed—in sawn-off monologues, short stories in verse, thumbnail dramas, splintery photographs. In poem after poem Hugo Williams joins a sense of things missed and missing to a redemptive act of imaginative capture, and Dear Room uncovers an ethics of the present, reminding us in the words of Philip Larkin that “days are where we live”.

Book:Horse Latitudes

Horse Latitudes

Paul Muldoon

The title of Horse Latitudes, Paul Muldoon’s tenth collection of poetry, refers to those areas thirty degrees north and south of the equator where sailing ships tend to be becalmed, where stasis (if not stagnation) is the order of the day.

From Bosworth Field to Beijing, the Boyne to Bull Run, from a series of text messages to the nineteenth-century Irish poet Thomas Moore to an elegy for Warren Zevon, and from post-Agreement Ireland to George W. Bush’s America, this book presents us with fields of battle and fields of debate, in which we often seem to have come to a standstill but in which language that has been debased may yet be restruck and made current to our predicament. Horse Latitudes is a triumphant collection by one of the most esteemed poets of our time.

Book:Redgrove's Wife

Redgrove's Wife

Penelope Shuttle

A collection of poems focusing on the life and death of the author’s husband and the loss of her father.

Book:Swithering (Robin Robertson)

Swithering

Robin Robertson

To “swither” means to suffer indecision or doubt, but there is no faltering in these poems; any uncertainty is not in the lines or the sounds or the images, but only in the themes of flux and change and transformation that thread their way through this powerful third collection.

Robin Robertson has written a book of remarkable cohesion and range that calls on his knowledge of folklore and myth to fuse the old ways with the new. From raw, exposed poems about the end of childhood to erotically charged lyrics about the end of desire, from a brilliant retelling of the metamorphosis and death of Actaeon to the final freeing of the waters in “Holding Proteus,” these are close examinations of nature—of the bright epiphanies of passion and loss.

At times sombre, at times exultant, Robertson’s poems are always firmly rooted in the world we see, the life we experience: original, precise, and startlingly clear.

Book:Tramp in Flames

Tramp in Flames

Paul Farley

Paul Farley has been widely and justly praised for his extraordinary knack of casting the contemporary experience in an almost mythic and historic light, and following the exceptional acclaim for his first two books, Farley might have been forgiven for resting on his laurels for his third. Tramp in Flames, however, finds him pushing his imaginative daring and formal ambition to the limit. A book of astonishing variety and range and no little emotional bravery, Tramp in Flames shows Farley rapidly becoming one of the most unfailingly interesting writers of any genre, and a definitive voice of the age.

Book:Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid

Tyrannosaurus Rex versus the Corduroy Kid

Simon Armitage

From one of the most important British poets at work today comes a brilliant new collection that meditates on human battles past and present, on youth and age, on monsters and underdogs, on the life of nations and the individual heart.

In Tyrannosaurus Rex Versus the Corduroy Kid, we meet a writer who speaks naturally, and with frankness and restraint, for his culture. Armitage witnesses the pathos of women at work in the mock-Tudor Merrie England coffeehouses and gives us a backstage take on the world of Oliver Twist and the Artful Dodger. He makes a gift to the reader of the sympathy and misery and grit buried in his nation’s collective consciousness: in the distant battle depicted in the Bayeux Tapestry and in the daily lives and petty crimes of ordinary people. In poems that are sometimes lyrical, sometimes brash and comic, and full of living voices, the extraordinary and the mythic grow out of the ordinary, and figures of diminishment and tragedy shine forth as mysterious, uncelebrated…[more]

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