Snapping up a ticket offered to me by my more organised pal Robin Houghton, I was lucky enough to get to hear the work of the ten shortlisted poets for this year’s T.S. Eliot awards in the capacious Royal Festival Hall. Fab seats we had too, being in row D, only slightly marred by the screen-lit faces of the self-important live tweeters next to us.
It was an unrivalled snapshot of the state of poetry. My favourite was Pascale Petit, whose reading from her collection Fauverie was electric and inspiring. While Ruth Padel hooked me right away too, and I admired Arundhathi Subramaniam’s poise and felt convinced she would win. I was wrong. David Harsent won the prize next day with his book Fire Songs more a box of damp matches on the night, but I am keen to read his book. While Michael Longley’s elegies to his twin brother were fascinating and moving, as was a poem by John Burnside about his sister.
The readers were excellently introduced by Ian McMillan.
The dire rail replacement service to and from Brighton meant I couldn’t lurk with poet pals afterwards. The best thing for me was that even several days after the event, nothing seems as big and clever as reading and writing poetry. Surely that’s the whole point of such events and prizes.
Comparing poets is such an apples versus oranges business, but it seems our culture best relates to the idea of winners and losers; of hierarchies. The event was topped and tailed by short recordings of T.S. Eliot reading his own work. And I shuffled out trying to imagine an event in the early 1930s with the Old Possum up against Yeats, Pound, Masefield, Sitwell, H.D., the young Auden and so on. The idea seemed crazy.
Below, my winner: Pascale Petit.