Annal: 2011 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Results of the T.S. Eliot Prize in the year 2011.

Book:Black Cat Bone

Black Cat Bone

John Burnside

John Burnside’s remarkable new book is full of strange, unnerving poems that hang in the memory like a myth or a song. These are poems of thwarted love and disappointment, of raw desire, of the stalking beast, ‘eye-teeth/and muzzle/coated with blood’; poems that recognise ‘we have too much to gain from the gods, and this is why/they fail to love us’; and, poems that tell of an obsessive lover coming to grief in a sequence that echoes the old murder ballads, or of a hunter losing himself in the woods while pursuing an unknown and possibly unknowable quarry. Drawing on sources as various as the paintings of Pieter Brueghel and the lyrics of Delta blues, “Black Cat Bone” examines varieties of love, faith, hope and illusion, to suggest an unusual possibility: that when the search for what we expected to find—in the forest or in our own hearts—ends in failure, we can now begin the hard and disciplined quest for what is actually there. …[more]

Book:Armour (John Kinsella)

Armour

John Kinsella

With Armour, the great Australian poet John Kinsella has written his most spiritual work to date—and his most politically engaged. The world in which these poems unfold is strangely poised between the material and the immaterial, and everything which enters it—kestrel and fox, moth and almond—does so illuminated by its own vivid presence: the impression is less a poet honouring his subjects than uncannily inhabiting them. Elsewhere we find a poetry of lyric protest, as Kinsella scrutinizes the equivocal place of the human within this natural landscape, both as tenant and self-appointed steward. Armour is a beautifully various work, one of sharp ecological and social critique—but also one of meticulous invocation and quiet astonishment, whose atmosphere will haunt the reader long after they close the book. Praise for John Kinsella: ‘Kinsella’s poems are a very rare feat: they are narratives of feeling. Vivid sight—of landscapes, of animals, of human forms in distant light—becomes insight. There is, often, the shock of the new. But somehow awaited, even familiar. Which is the homecoming of a true poet’ George Steiner

Book:The Bees (Carol Ann Duffy)

The Bees

Carol Ann Duffy

The Bees is Carol Ann Duffy’s first collection of new poems as Poet Laureate, and the much-anticipated successor to the T. S. Eliot Prize-winning Rapture. After the intimate focus of the earlier book, The Bees finds Duffy using her full poetic range: there are drinking songs, love poems, poems to the weather, poems of political anger; her celebrated ‘Last Post’ (written for the last surviving soldiers to fight in the First World War) showed that powerful public poetry still has a central place in our culture. There are elegies, too, for beloved friends, and—most movingly—the poet’s own mother. As Duffy’s voice rises in this collection, her music intensifies, and every poem patterns itself into song.

Woven and weaving through the book is its presiding spirit: the bee. Sometimes the bee is Duffy’s subject, sometimes it strays into the poem, or hovers at its edge—and the reader soon begins to anticipate its appearance. In the end, Duffy’s point…[more]

Book:Farmers Cross

Farmers Cross

Bernard O'Donoghue

This book brings together subtle and moving meditations on exile and belonging, travel and home, and honours many friends and loved ones along the way. In a series of poems that frequently recall the south-west Ireland of the author’s childhood, Farmers Cross shows the author writing at his visionary and lyrical best.

Book:Grace (Esther Morgan)

Grace

Esther Morgan

What happens if, when the angel arrives with his message, no one’s at home? In poems of lyric concentration, Grace examines our need for purpose, for the signs that might help us decide what to do with our lives. It’s a desire that makes for restless spirits—like the woman who keeps shifting her furniture around or the invisible subjects of an early photograph, moving too fast to be captured. Other poems ask what happens when we reconcile ourselves to watching and waiting—whether the angle of the sun in a guest room or the colour of a bruised clementine is really ‘enough to be going on with’. Haunted by a blue sky out of which something (or nothing) might come, these are poems of intensely felt moments. They create a vision both troubled and informed by doubt, where the ghost of a film star may be the closest we can come to grace.

Book:Memorial (Alice Oswald)

Memorial

Alice Oswald

Matthew Arnold praised the Iliad for its ‘nobility’, as has everyone ever since—but ancient critics praised it for its enargeia, its ‘bright unbearable reality’ (the word used when gods come to earth not in disguise but as themselves). To retrieve the poem’s energy, Alice Oswald has stripped away its story, and her account focuses by turns on Homer’s extended similes and on the brief ‘biographies’ of the minor war-dead, most of whom are little more than names, but each of whom lives and dies unforgettably—and unforgotten—in the copiousness of Homer’s glance. ‘The Iliad is an oral poem. This translation presents it as an attempt—in the aftermath of the Trojan War—to remember people’s names and lives without the use of writing. I hope it will have its own coherence as a series of memories and similes laid side by side: an antiphonal account of man in his world…compatible with the spirit of oral poetry, which was never stable but always adapting itself to a new audience, as if its language, unlike written language, was still alive and kicking.’—Alice Oswald

Book:Night (David Harsent)

Night: Poetry

David Harsent

Among the poems that open Night, David Harsent’s follow-up to his Forward Prize-winning collection “Legion”, is a startling sequence about a garden—but a garden unlike any other. It sets the tone for a book in which the sureties of daylight become uncertain: dark, unsettling narratives about what wakes in us when we escape our day-lit selves to visit a place where the dream-like and the nightmarish are never far apart. The book culminates in the seductive and brilliantly-sustained ‘Elsewhere’, a noirish, labyrinthine quest-poem in which the protagonist is drawn ever onward through a series of encounters and reflections like an after-hours Orpheus, hard-bitten and harried by memory.

Book:November (Sean O'Brien)

November

Sean O'Brien

Showing O’Brien at the height of his powers, with his intellect and imagination as gratifyingly restless as ever, this collection is haunted by the missing, the missed, the vanished, the uncounted, and the uncountable lost—lost sleep, connections, muses, books, and the ghosts and gardens of childhood. Ultimately, the poet is led to contemplate the most troubling absences: O’Brien’s elegies for his parents and friends form the heart of this book, and are the source of its pervasive note of départ. Elsewhere—as if a French window stood open to an English room—the islands, canals, railway stations, and undergrounds of his landscape are swept by a strikingly Gallic air. This new note lends these recent poems a reinvigorated sense of the imaginative possible.

Book:Profit and Loss (Leontia Flynn)

Profit and Loss

Leontia Flynn

Celebrated as an unusually original poet—nervy, refreshing, deceptively simple—Leontia Flynn has quickly developed into a writer of assured technical complexity and a startling acuity of perception. In her third collection, Flynn examines and dismantles a fugitive life. The first sequence moves through a series of rooms, reflecting on aspects of the author’s personal and family history. Using the idea of the haunted house or the house with a sealed-off room, and Gothic tropes of madness, doubles, revenants and religious brooding, the poems consider ideas of inheritance and legacy. The second section comprises a magnificent long poem written in the months leading up to the banking crisis and presidential election of October 2008. Taking as its occasion a flat-clearing, it assumes a more public voice (inspired partly by Auden’s “Letter to Lord Byron”), and reflects on aspects of the rapid social and technological change of the last decade. An extraordinarily moving reflection on mutability and mortality…[more]

Book:Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!

Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!

Daljit Nagra

Look We Have Coming to Dover!, the remarkable debut by Daljit Nagra, marked the arrival of a thrilling new voice in poetry and won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection along the way. In this, his second volume, his writing shows every bit the same verve and excitement that made his first book an unmissable event. Tippoo Sultan’s Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! takes its cue from the eighteenth-century automaton (a tiger savaging a British soldier) in a series of poems that begin at the throat of the old British Empire. In these vivid, real and sometimes surreal pieces, Daljit Nagra creates his own inimitable linguistic bhaji: where Shakespeare meets the Subcontinent in a range of forms from English sonnets to spectacular displays of ‘bollyverse’ or the tender love songs of the monsoon. The poems take their bearings from cornershops and classrooms, the strange, part-arcadian, part-hellish streets of ‘Londonstan’ and the places where the north of England collides with…[more]

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