Annal: 2010 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Results of the T.S. Eliot Prize in the year 2010.

Book:White Egrets: Poems

White Egrets: Poems

Derek Walcott

In White Egrets, Derek Walcott treats the characteristic subjects of his career—the Caribbean’s complex colonial legacy, his love of the Western literary tradition, the wisdom that comes through the passing of time, the always strange joys of new love, and the sometimes terrifying beauty of the natural world—with an intensity and drive that recall his greatest work. Through the mesmerizing repetition of theme and imagery, Walcott creates an almost surflike cadence, broadening the possibilities of rhyme and meter, poetic form and language.

White Egrets is a moving new collection from one of the most important poets of the twentieth century—a celebration of the life and language of the West Indies. It is also a triumphant paean to beauty, love, art, and—perhaps most surprisingly—getting older.

Book:Human Chain: Poems

Human Chain: Poems

Seamus Heaney

Seamus Heaney’s new collection elicits continuities and solidarities, between husband and wife, child and parent, then and now, inside an intently remembered present—the stepping stones of the day, the weight and heft of what is passed from hand to hand, lifted and lowered. Human Chain also broaches larger questions of transmission, of lifelines to the inherited past. There are newly minted versions of anonymous early Irish lyrics, poems that stand at the crossroads of oral and written, and other “hermit songs” that weigh equally in their balance the craft of scribe and the poet’s early calling as scholar. A remarkable sequence entitled “Route 101” plots the descent into the underworld in the Aeneid against single moments in the arc of a life, from a 1950s childhood to the birth of a first grandchild. Other poems display a Virgilian pietas for the dead—friends, neighbors, family—that is yet wholly and movingly vernacular. …[more]

Book:The Mirabelles

The Mirabelles

Annie Freud

Annie Freud’s award-winning first collection, The Best Man That Ever Was, introduced readers to a remarkably versatile new voice; The Mirabelles delivers a similarly exhilarating cornucopia—the Mask of Temporary Madness, Marc Almond, mini-novels a sonnet long, Carottes Vichy, and the most gripping account of a billiard game you’ll ever read. However, in a new sequence derived from family letters, Freud has invented almost a new kind of writing: neither “found” nor “made” in the conventional sense, these poems are profoundly moving, and startling in their boldly unfashionable lack of irony. Elsewhere The Mirabelles is full of the world-stuff—the clothes and food, the art and social intrigues—with which we dress and conceal our deeper emotions and appetites. In the end, this is a book about reality and its representations, and the truth and lies we tell about ourselves.

Book:New Light for the Old Dark

New Light for the Old Dark

Sam Willetts

The poems in this remarkable first collection have been hard won: ‘Fruits of much grief they are,’ as Donne said, ‘emblems of more.’ Having lost ten years to heroin addiction and recovery, Sam Willetts emerges now—suddenly, and apparently from nowhere—as a fully-fledged and significant English poet.

In a book deeply conscious of history, one series of poems tracks his mother’s escape, as a young girl, from the Nazis, in a narrative that moves from a Stuka attack on the Smolensk Road to the Krakow ghetto, the destruction of Warsaw, to Nuremberg and Nagasaki and, finally, his mother’s grave. Other poems address Englishness, secular Jewishness, and the childhood pleasures of Oxfordshire—an increasingly deceptive pastoral, stalked and eventually shattered by heroin, which brings a grim new existence among dealers and users. The redemption the poet finds, through detox and rehab, love and writing, is full of regret for the years…[more]

Book:Phantom Noise

Phantom Noise

Brian Turner

Brian Turner’s first book of poems, Here, Bullet, was a harrowing, first-hand account of the Iraq War by a soldier-poet. In “Phantom Noise” he pumps up the volume as he faces and tries to deal with the traumatic aftermath of war.

Flashbacks explode the daily hell of Baghdad into the streets and malls of peaceful California, at the same time sending Turner’s imagination reeling back to Iraq. If he thought he had written all he could of his Iraq experiences in Here, Bullet, he was mistaken, for what he saw and felt there affected him so profoundly that more poems had to be written, years later, from a place of apparent safety. Brian Turner writes a powerful poetry of witness, exceptional for its beauty, honesty and skill. Like Keith Douglas’s poems from the North African desert in the Second World War, Turner’s testament from the war in Iraq offers unflinchingly accurate description but no moral judgement, leaving the reader to draw any conclusions. Repetitive media reports…[more]

Book:Rough Music (Fiona Sampson)

Rough Music

Fiona Sampson

Sourcing folk songs, ballads, and medieval carols, the poems in this collection explore the points where poetry and music meet and result in a crude dissonance derived from Anglo-Saxon and Romanian traditions. Exploring a range of personal material informed by the deep, medieval iconography of common prayer, by the diction of medieval carol as well as metaphysics, poetry, and madrigal sounds, this innovative volume touches on themes of women’s identities, grief, loss, shame, loneliness, ill health, and surviving in the aftermath of violence.

Book:Seeing Stars

Seeing Stars

Simon Armitage

A thrilling new collection from the hugely acclaimed British poet Simon Armitage. With its vivid array of dramatic monologues, allegories, and tall tales, this absurdist, unreal exploration of modern society brings us a chorus of unique and unforgettable voices.

All are welcome at this twilit, visionary carnival: the man whose wife drapes a border-curtain across the middle of the marital home; the black bear with a dark secret; the woman who oversees giant snowballs in the freezer. “My girlfriend won me in a sealed auction but wouldn’t / tell me how much she bid,” begins one speaker; “I hadn’t meant to go grave robbing with Richard Dawkins / but he can be very persuasive,” another tells us. The storyteller behind this human tapestry has about him a sly undercover idealism: he shares with many of his characters a stargazing capacity for belief, or for being, at the very least, entirely “genuine in his disbelief.” In these startling poems, with their unique cartoon-strip energy and air of misrule, Armitage creates world after world, peculiar and always particular, where the only certainty is the unexpected.

Book:What the Water Gave Me

What the Water Gave Me: Poems After Frida Kahlo

Pascale Petit

What the Water Gave Me contains poems in the voice of the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. Some are close interpretations of Kahlo’s work, while others are parallels or version homages where Petit draws on her experience as a visual artist to create alternative ‘paintings’ with words. More than just a verse biography, this collection explores how Kahlo transformed trauma into art after the artist’s near-fatal bus accident. Petit, with her vivid style, her feel for nature and her understanding of pain and redemption, fully inhabits Kahlo’s world. Each poem is an evocation of “how art works on the pain spectrum”, laced with splashes of ferocious colour.

Book:The Wrecking Light

The Wrecking Light: Poems

Robin Robertson

Robin Robertson’s fourth collection is, if anything, an even more intense, moving, bleakly lyrical, and at times shocking book than “Swithering”, winner of the Forward Prize. These poems are written with the authority of classical myth, yet sound utterly contemporary: the poet’s gaze—whether on the natural world or the details of his own life—is unflinching and clear, its utter seriousness leavened by a wry, dry and disarming humour. Alongside fine translations from Neruda and Montale and dynamic (and at times horrific) retellings of stories from Ovid, the poems in “The Wrecking Light” pitch the power and wonder of nature against the frailty and failure of the human. Ghosts sift through these poems—certainties become volatile, the simplest situations thicken with strangeness and threat—all of them haunted by the pressure and presence of the primitive world against our own, and the kind of dream-like intensity of description that has become Robertson’s trademark. This is a book of considerable grandeur and sweep which confirms Robertson as one of the most arresting and powerful poets at work today.

Book:You (John Haynes)

You

John Haynes

A lengthy poem celebrating the British author’s marriage to a Nigerian woman, this narrative is a meditation on love on both a personal and communal level. As it knits together the philosophical theme of ““I” and ““you,” this remarkable poem expresses the inherent tensions of the union and observes both the harsh facts and the undeniable beauty of the northern Nigerian setting. Touching on various topics——including exposure to racism, unfamiliar customs, homesickness, cold weather, religion, and death——this sensitive account provides insight into differing cultural perceptions and the meanings of love.

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