November 4, 2013
T. S. Eliot Prize shortlist announced
by Emma Aylor
On October 23, the T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize shortlist was released, after being culled from a longlist of 113 publisher-submitted collections of poetry. Chair of judges Ian Duhig remarked that, though it is an honor to chair the prize, he found it “a nightmare to shortlist from so many fantastic books.” He will be helped by judges Vicki Feaver and Imtiaz Dharker in choosing the prize’s recipient.
Because most news coverage of the shortlist tells us little about the nominees or their works, here’s a crash course in the ten poets and their nominated books:
- Dannie Abse, Speak, Old Parrot (Hutchinson): The collection focuses on “love, loss, medicine and its moral implications, the nature of creativity, Jewish folk tradition and the passing of time.” Abse, a doctor as well as a writer, is ninety years old this year.
- Moniza Alvi, At the Time of Partition (Bloodaxe, forthcoming): Just one poem of twenty parts, Alvi’s book is set during the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan.
- Anne Carson, Red Doc> (Knopf): Perhaps the best-known on the other side of the Atlantic, Carson’s latest book forms a semi-sequel to her classic “novel in verse,” Autobiography of Red. In 2001, Carson won the prize for her “fictional essay in 29 tangos,” The Beauty of the Husband.
- Sinéad Morrissey, Parallax (Carcanet): Morrissey’s collection “documents what is caught, and what is lost, when houses and cityscapes, servants and saboteurs […] are arrested in time by photography (or poetry), subjected to the authority of a particular perspective.”
- Helen Mort, Division Street (Chatto & Windus): Clashes, particularities, and reflections focus this collection, which aims to live “at the site of conflict.” As the Telegraph notes, this is Mort’s first full collection, following only several chapbooks; she is also not even thirty, so clearly we should all just give up now.
- Daljit Nagra, Ramayana: A Retelling (Faber & Faber): After being “captivated by his grandparents’ Punjabi version as a child,” Nagra puts his own spin on one of the world’s most ancient stories with a particular emphasis on “multicultural, multi-faith readers.”
- Maurice Riordan, The Water Stealer (Faber & Faber): In his fourth collection, Riordan strikes a balancing act; his poems “report on worlds both robust and delicate, from boisterous pub-bluff to the oxygen bubble of an exquisite underwater spider.”
- Robin Robertson, Hill of Doors (Picador): Strindburg and Dionysus, among others, recur from Robertson’s previous books. The book is ordered by “four loose retellings” of the Dionysian myth “alongside four short Ovid versions,” and also features evocations of the author’s childhood in Scotland.
- Michael Symmons Roberts, Drysalter (Jonathan Cape): Taking its name “from the ancient trade in powders, chemicals, salts and dyes, paints and cures,” Roberts’ sixth book of poetry—which has already been awarded the Forward Prize—comprises 150 poems of fifteen lines each.
- George Szirtes, Bad Machine (Bloodaxe): Szirtes’ collection lets “politics, assimilation, desire, creatureliness and the pleasure and loss of the body mingle in various attenuated forms,” including postcards and “minimenta” after the artist Anselm Kiefer. Szirtes won the prize in 2004 for Reel.
I can’t help but root for Anne Carson, “a poet who is improbably famous but very deservedly beloved,” as Emily M. Keeler wrote for Hazlitt. I think it has much to do with seeing Carson read for the Drawn from Hopper exhibit at the Whitney in June, where, before the reading, a friend and I watched her husband sit, with hammy gestures and obvious love, on her lap.
The winner of the 2013 T. S. Eliot prize will be announced on January 13, 2014, and will receive £15,000 for the honor. Last year’s winner, Sharon Olds for Stag’s Leap, marked the first female American to win the traditionally British prize.
Emma Aylor is a former Melville House intern.