So, the T.S. Eliot Awards - more specifically, the reading, which I went to last night. Most of all, I like the feeling of being in a large auditorium full of people celebrating poetry - people I know well, people I think I know and friendly strangers. How you can strike up conversations about who your favourite is while waiting in the queue for the lav.
As I write this, the result has not yet been announced**. I was going to say it doesn't matter but, of course, with prize money of £25,000, it matters a great deal to the winner. I'm sure I'm not alone in having a natural bias to those on the shortlist whom I know, either personally or through having read their work, and to the smaller presses - this year's candidate being the estimable HappenStance, which runs entirely on the passion and energy of Nell Nelson. Whether the evening's readings - delivery and response - have any bearing on the final decision of the judges I don't know. I'm not diligent enough to have read all of the collections in advance and so I come to the event with a partial view and my own taste and prejudices. This is what I thought of the readings.
Fiona Moore, with her collection The Distal Point, did Nell proud with an understated reading of poems about loss - personal, political and environmental. I have a natural allegiance to this sort of quiet, clear-eyed poetry and delivery, though it does work better in a smaller space.
Ailbhe Darcy's Insistence is one of my favourite collections of 2018 - such a strong, idiosyncratic voice. It was a great pleasure to hear her read from what I had thought of as one of her more difficult poems and to revel in her delivery of its witty turning and swerving in a way I can only describe as fierce.
I had seen Terrance Hayes read at the British Library last year during a joyful celebration of Gwendolyn Brooks. At this reading, closing the evening, he seemed less like a rock god - which was a bit disappointing but might be a good thing. He did seem to read for longer than the others. I'm still working through his collection American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin and so reserve judgement.
Zaffar Kunial, like Fiona, gave a quiet reading from Us in which emotion built to the deeply moving Prayer. I think he is, as they say, one to watch over the long-term. I can see him becoming part of the literary canon. In complete contrast but with the same tear-provoking result, Richard Scott read from his erotic, playful and angry Soho. He's a powerfully engaging reader and though, for someone brought up in more repressed times, his frankness can be challenging, there is nothing remotely gratuitous about it and he uses it to devastating and salutary effect.
Shamefully, I admit I had not read the short-listed collections of Nick Laird, Sean O’Brien, Phoebe Power, Tracy K. Smith or Hannah Sullivan. Looking back over the last few years, there's always at least one collection whose inclusion is a mystery, why that rather than other collections I've read during the year. This year, for me, it's Phoebe's Shrines of Upper Austria, but I'm judging entirely on those poems she read on the evening. Hannah Sullivan's collection is Three Poems and she read extracts from two of them. I started out not being much engaged but found the cumulative effect of her reading surprisingly touching and will read the collection. I don't know Tracy K. Smith's work at all but, again, her reading from Wade in the Water made me want to know it, her impressive pairing of the deeply personal with the universal. Both Sean O'Brien (Europa) and Nick Laird (Feel Free) were underwhelming to me. I drifted off a bit. Why? I'd like to tell you, but I can't remember.
In any event, good luck to them all. And a big thank you for the lovely bonus I sometimes get from a good reading - the start of a new poem.
** Now we know the winner, Hannah Sullivan for her debut collection Three Poems. Her win has been popular, with Jacqueline Saphra describing her poetry (in December) as " A really naked Eliot-infused modernist text from the perspective of a woman. I love the formal virtuosity too; so comfortable with rhyme and metre but equally at home stepping out of it".
I'm looking forward to my next pamphlet, due out in February and to seeing what direction my writing takes in the coming year. I think it's getting a bit more personal. I'm working on a poem started at the end of last year called Confessional. This seems to be about how I can't write confessional poems.
Edwin Morgan's Sweeping Out the Dark (Carcanet); Terrance Haye's American Sonnets for my Past and Future Assassin (Penguin Poetry); and Magma, climate issue.