Just a quick note about the T.S. Eliot readings. Luckily I met up with Robin Houghton, Charlotte Gann and Jess Mookerjee. The first phase of these readings is always the same, gathering in the long bar before and having to talk to people. It is good to have some pals with you, as this can be awkward. There is a tendency for poets, all pressed together on the ‘works outing’ (as host Ian McMillan said poet Jo Bell had called it) and there only being a limited amount of time, to be looking over each other’s shoulders for someone more influential to talk to.
Ian McMillan is a perfect host for this event, blending a down-to-earth (code for Barnsley) tone with some poetic flights of his own. This is the third successive awards I have been to, and I always enjoy the readings. I treat it like one of those old fashioned sampler albums, where you’d hear a track or two by lots of different bands. Vahni Capildeo mentioned Aimee Cesare, so had my attention, and I found her writing was ambitious and free. J.O. Morgan performed his poems like dramatic monologues, and again was something I’d like to investigate further. Denise Riley‘s reading was full of excellent, dense poems that I look forward to seeing on the page, but I found her performance style mannered. Rachael Boast has natural charisma, and her mysterious and musical poems were intriguing to me, although she professed to not knowing what they were about, a statement that I always take with a pinch of salt. Alice Oswald spoke her poems from memory very well with a clenched right hand. A reading that made me want to buy her book Falling Awake. I thought she was a nailed on favourite.
The eventual winner, however, announced the following day was Cumbrian poet Jacob Polley, whose reading I warmed to, despite a sinking feeling when I heard the central character in his poetry book was called Jackself, which made me think of John Self in Martin Amis’s Money (1984) and other self-insertions. Still he’d won me over by the end of it, and I think he is as worthy a winner as anyone. Who wins the thing is not something that bothers me much. Only time will tell who the winners are, if any.
So I have half a dozen shortlisted books on order, and I am looking forward to dwelling with them properly. If you bought all ten of the shortlisted books each year, you’d have a pretty interesting poetry library. A nightmare journey home followed, thanks to train cancellations and so on, but it was well worth it.
My view of the readings. Here is Ruth Padel, who introduced the event with a reading of Journey of the Magi, by T.S.Elliot. I didn’t take snaps of the others, as I didn’t want to distract myself and the others around me, for what weren’t going to be particularly good shots.