Honor roll: T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry

Each of these books has been nominated for a T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry. They are ranked by honors received.

Book:My Alexandria

My Alexandria: Poems

Mark Doty

One of the most highly praised and touching collections of poems to appear in recent years. In selecting it for the National Poetry Series, Philip Levine said: “The courage of this book is that it looks away from nothing: the miracle is that wherever it looks it finds poetry… Mark Doty is a maker of big, risky, fearless poems in which ordinary human experience becomes music.”

Book:Men in the Off Hours

Men in the Off Hours

Anne Carson

Following her widely acclaimed Autobiography of Red (“A spellbinding achievement” —Susan Sontag), a new collection of poetry and prose that displays Anne Carson’s signature mixture of opposites—the classic and the modern, cinema and print, narrative and verse.

In Men in the Off Hours, Carson reinvents figures as diverse as Oedipus, Emily Dickinson, and Audubon. She views the writings of Sappho, St. Augustine, and Catullus through a modern lens. She sets up startling juxtapositions (Lazarus among video paraphernalia; Virginia Woolf and Thucydides discussing war). And in a final prose poem, she meditates on the recent death of her mother.

With its quiet, acute spirituality, its fearless wit and sensuality, and its joyful understanding that “the fact of the matter for humans is imperfection,” Men in the Off Hours shows us “the most exciting poet writing in English today” (Michael Ondaatje) at her best.

Book:Moy Sand and Gravel

Moy Sand and Gravel: Poems

Paul Muldoon

Paul Muldoon’s ninth collection of poems, his first since Hay (1998), finds him working a rich vein that extends from the rivery, apple-heavy County Armagh of the 1950s, in which he was brought up, to suburban New Jersey, on the banks of a canal dug by Irish navvies, where he now lives. Grounded, glistening, as gritty as they are graceful, these poems seem capable of taking in almost anything, and anybody, be it a Tuareg glimpsed on the Irish border, Bessie Smith, Marilyn Monroe, Queen Elizabeth I, a hunted hare, William Tell, William Butler Yeats, Sitting Bull, Ted Hughes, an otter, a fox, Mr. and Mrs. Stanley Joscelyne, un unearthed pit pony, a loaf of bread, an outhouse, a killdeer, Oscar Wilde, or a flock of redknots. At the heart of the book is an elegy for a miscarried child, and that elegiac tone predominates, particularly in the elegant remaking of Yeats’s “A Prayer for My Daughter” with which the book concludes, where a welter of traffic signs and slogans, along with the spirits of admen, hardware storekeepers, flimflammers, fixers, and other forebears, are borne along by a hurricane-swollen canal, and private grief coincides with some of the gravest matter of our age.

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:Corpus

Corpus

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:Stag's Leap: Poems

Stag's Leap: Poems

Sharon Olds

In this wise and intimate new book, Sharon Olds tells the story of a divorce, embracing strands of love, sex, sorrow, memory, and new freedom.

As she carries us through the seasons when her marriage was ending, Olds opens her heart to the reader, sharing the feeling of invisibility that comes when we are no longer standing in love’s sight; the surprising physical bond that still exists between a couple during parting; the loss of everything from her husband’s smile to the set of his hip; the radical change in her sense of place in the world. Olds is naked before us, curious and brave and even generous toward the man who was her mate for thirty years and who now loves another woman. As she writes in the remarkable “Stag’s Leap,” “When anyone escapes, my heart / leaps up.  Even when it’s I who am escaped from, / I am half on the side of the leaver.” Olds’s propulsive poetic line and…[more]

Book:Landing Light

Landing Light: Poems

Don Paterson

Dear son, I was mezzo del cammin
and the true path was as lost to me as ever
when you cut in front and lit it as you ran.
See how the true gift never leaves the giver…
—from “Waking with Russell”

Hailed for its “enormous skill and verve” (The Guardian) and its “seriousness and moral urgency” (The Independent), Landing Light is one of the most important and resonant poetry collections to come out of Britain in recent years. Ceaselessly inquiring, Don Paterson discovers the love of a son, a talking book, the voices of a wreckage left in the black box. In traditional forms, short lyrics, and long narratives, Paterson has crafted—with precision and passion—his most accomplished and spiritual collection.

Book:The Beauty of the Husband

The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos

Anne Carson

The Beauty Of The Husband is an essay on Keats’s idea that beauty is truth, and is also the story of a marriage. It is told in 29 tangos. A tango (like a marriage) is something you have to dance to the end.

This clear-eyed, brutal, moving, darkly funny book tells a single story in an immediate, accessible voice–29 “tangos” of narrative verse that take us vividly through erotic, painful, and heartbreaking scenes from a long-time marriage that falls apart. Only award-winning poet Anne Carson could create a work that takes on the oldest of lyrical subjects—love—and make it this powerful, this fresh, this devastating.

Book:Birthday Letters

Birthday Letters

Ted Hughes

Formerly Poet Laureate to Queen Elizabeth II, the late Ted Hughes (1930-98) is recognized as one of the few contemporary poets whose work has mythic scope and power. And few episodes in postwar literature have the legendary stature of Hughes’s romance with, and marriage to, the great American poet Sylvia Plath.

The poems in Birthday Letters are addressed (with just two exceptions) to Plath, and were written over a period of more than twenty-five years, the first a few years after her suicide in 1963. Some are love letters, others haunted recollections and ruminations. In them, Hughes recalls his and Plath’s time together, drawing on the powerful imagery of his work—animal, vegetable, mythological—as well as on Plath’s famous verse.

Countless books have discussed the subject of this intense relationship from a necessary distance, but this volume—at last—offers us Hughes’s own account. Moreover, it is a truly remarkable collection of pems in its own right.

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.

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