Annal: 2013 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Results of the T.S. Eliot Prize in the year 2013.

Book:At the Time of Partition

At the Time of Partition

Moniza Alvi

This book-length poem is set at the time of the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947 when thousands of people were killed in civil unrest and millions displaced, with families later split between the two countries. Inspired by family history, Moniza Alvi weaves a deeply personal story of fortitude and courage, as well as of tragic loss, in this powerful work in 20 parts.

Book:Bad Machine

Bad Machine

George Szirtes

The body is the ‘bad machine’ of George Szirtes’ latest book of poems. The sudden death of his elderly father and of his younger friend, the poet Michael Murphy, remind him how machines—sources of energy and delight in their prime—go so easily wrong; and that change in the body is a signal for moving on.

But language too is a body. Here, politics, assimilation, desire, creatureliness and the pleasure and loss of the body, mingle in various attenuated forms such as lexicon, canzone, acrostics, mirror poems, postcards, and a series of ‘minimenta’ after Anselm Kiefer whose love of history as rubble and monument haunts this collection.

George Szirtes is one of our most inventive—and constantly reinventing—poets, and Bad Machine shows him developing new themes and new ways of writing in poems which stretch the possibilities of form and question language and its mastery.

Book:Division Street

Division Street

Helen Mort

“A stone is lobbed in ‘84, hangs like a star over Orgreave. Welcome to Sheffield. Border-land, our town of miracles”. (’Scab’).

From the clash between striking miners and police to the delicate conflicts in personal relationships, Helen Mort’s stunning debut is marked by distance and division. Named for a street in Sheffield, this is a collection that cherishes specificity: the particularity of names; the reflections the world throws back at us; the precise moment of a realisation. Distinctive and assured, these poems show us how, at the site of conflict, a moment of reconciliation can be born.

Book:Drysalter

Drysalter

Michael Symmons Roberts

Michael Symmons Roberts’ sixth—and most ambitious collection to date—takes its name from the ancient trade in powders, chemicals, salts and dyes, paints and cures. These poems offer a similarly potent and sensory multiplicity, unified through the formal constraint of 150 poems of 15 lines.

Like the medieval psalters echoed in its title, this collection contains both the sacred and profane. Here are hymns of praise and lamentation, songs of wonder and despair, journeying effortlessly through physical and metaphysical landscapes, from financial markets and urban sprawl to deserts and dark nights of the soul.

From an encomium to a karaoke booth to a conjuration of an inverse Antarctica, this collection is a compelling, powerful search for meaning, truth and falsehood. But, as ever in Roberts’ work—notably the Whitbread Award-winning Corpus—this…[more]

Book:Hill of Doors

Hill of Doors

Robin Robertson

Charged with strangeness and beauty, Hill of Doors is a haunted and haunting book, where each successive poem seems a shape conjured from the shadows, and where the uncanny is made physically present.

The collection sees the return of some familiar members of the Robertson company, including Strindberg—heading, as usual, towards calamity—and the shape-shifter Dionysus. Four loose retellings of stories of the Greek god form pillars for the book, alongside four short Ovid versions. Threaded through these are a series of pieces about the poet’s childhood on the north-east coast, his fascination with the sea and the islands of Scotland. However, the reader will also discover a distinct new note in Robertson’s austere but ravishing poetry: towards the possibility of contentment—a house, a door, a key—finding, at last, a ‘happiness of the hand and heart’.

Magisterial in its command and range, indelibly moving and memorable in its speech, Hill of Doors is Robin Robertson’s most powerful book to date.

Book:Parallax (Sinéad Morrissey)

Parallax

Sinéad Morrissey

In Parallax Sinéad Morrissey documents what is caught, and what is lost, when houses and cityscapes, servants and saboteurs (‘the different people who lived in sepia’) are arrested in time by photography (or poetry), subjected to the authority of a particular perspective. Assured and disquieting, Morrissey’s poems explore the paradoxes in what is seen, read and misread in the surfaces of the presented world.

Book:Ramayana: A Retelling

Ramayana: A Retelling

Daljit Nagra

Attributed to Valmiki, thought to be India’s first poet, the Ramayana’s origins date back thousands of years when it was first committed to Sanskrit. Since then, generations of children the world over have grown up with its story of Rama’s quest to recover his wife Sita from her abduction by Raavana, the Lord of the Underworld. The tale has been celebrated in many languages and has spread to many other countries including Nepal, Tibet, Thailand, Burma, Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia and Indonesia. It is used as a Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, Islamic, Sikh as well as a secular text, and lives in in many art forms too: in drama and dance, in sculpture and painting, in prose and in poetry.

Daljit Nagra was captivated by the versions his grandparents regaled him with as a child. Now an award-winning poet of dazzling gifts, he has chosen to bring the story to life in a vivid and enthralling version of his own. Accessible and engaging, and bursting with energy, Nagra’s Ramayana is a distillation and an animation for readers of all ages, whether familiar with or entirely new to this remarkable tale.

Book:Red Doc>

Red Doc>

Anne Carson

Some years ago I wrote a book about a boy named Geryon who was red and had wings and fell in love with Herakles. Recently I began to wonder what happened to them in later life. Red Doc> continues their adventures in a very different style and with changed names.

To live past the end of your myth is a perilous thing.

Book:Speak, Old Parrot

Speak, Old Parrot

Dannie Abse

2013 marks Dannie Abse’s 90th birthday. In his lifetime he has published an astonishing array of work including poetry, fiction, criticism, plays and autobiography but it is as a poet that he is best known and loved.

In Speak, Old Parrot he returns to themes of loss, love, medicine and its moral implications, the nature of creativity, Jewish folk tradition and the passing of time. The poems are observant of the outside world as well as the inner life and emotions but most of all they are a joy to read.

Book:The Water Stealer

The Water Stealer

Maurice Riordan

These poems report on worlds both robust and delicate, from boisterous pub-bluff to the oxygen bubble of an exquisite underwater spider. Whether situated in the quiet lanes of his native Co Cork or amid the bustle of his adopted London, Riordan’s poems exist between many states, poised at once in the grip of both activity and stillness, concerned with speaking and listening to what he hauntingly describes as ‘the unwonted quiet’. There are tributes to the departed and the living, the befriended and the estranged; there are also conversations with poets, in memory and in translation, from the Spanish and from the Irish.

The collection concludes with ‘The Pilgrim’—that hovers eerily ‘in patrol of the edges’, wherever they may be located. But just as these poems can be sage, they are also mischievous, fun-loving, gregarious creatures who like nothing better than to sing or to joke at your ear. The Water Stealer is a book full of invention and delight, whose hypnotic stories remind us of the variousness and the enchantment of the world.

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