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Thursday, 1 November 2007

The TS Eliot Prize 2007 shortlist is announced

Eyewear was going to title this post "Mischief Night", "Nagra Falls" or "Judging and the Individual Talent" but decided against such frivolity. The TS Eliot Prize 2007 shortlist has been announced today. Below, the list in full, and remember, all poetry books published this year, in Ireland or the UK, were eligible (if submitted):

Ian Duhig for The Speed of Dark (Picador)
Alan Gillis for Hawks and Doves (Gallery)
Sophie Hannah for Pessimism for Beginners (Carcanet)
Mimi Khalvati for The Meanest Flower (Carcanet)
Frances Leviston for Public Dream (Picador)
Sarah Maguire for The Pomegranates of Kandahar (Chatto)
Edwin Morgan for A Book of Lives (Carcanet)
Sean O'Brien for The Drowned Book (Picador)
Fiona Sampson for Common Prayer (Carcanet)
Matthew Sweeney for Black Moon (Jonathan Cape)

The list, which is a strong one, has thrown up some surprises, some less welcome than others. To my mind, it was a major lost opportunity, not including Daljit Nagra's extraordinary debut collection. I realise that there is give-and-take on the judging panel, so it'd be interesting to listen in on why they felt Nagra's brilliant collection was not worthy of inclusion.

I know some poets hold a bias against poetry whose diction is "impure" in its use of English (see Hobsbaum's writing on this subject), and also a bias against poetry which engages with popular culture, and humour. Nagra's dexterous cultural handling of post-colonial issues, linguistic hybridity, and lyrical wit, is Muldoonian in its promise (as is the work of Gillis, thus seeming to confuse the issue). His absence from the list is shocking to me. Consider the following: "From 2006 the T S Eliot Prize, set up in memory of one of our greatest poets, will reflect Eliot's commitment to encouraging young people to read and enjoy poetry. The Poetry Book Society, which runs the Prize, is delighted to announce the launch of the School Shadowing Scheme." How can the PBS encourage young people, when its prize doesn't list or award precisely the exciting younger poets that do engage young - and old - readers?

At any rate, there is much to celebrate on this list. Fiona Sampson, Matthew Sweeney, and Mimi Khalvati, especially, are very good poets, well-deserving of being there. Frances Leviston, too, is a very good up-and-coming poet - from the poems I have seen from her new collection (in Ten Hallam Poets and published in magazines) - her debut will be one of the strongest of the decade - as strong, in some ways, as Kennard's or Nagra's. It is good to see the superb Irish press, Gallery, noted. It is also very good to see the great Edwin Morgan honoured here. I am not mentioning the four previously-listed poets, as we knew they'd be here, and we knew their books were strong contenders.

It is unfortunate that there was no room for Margaret Atwood, John Ashbery, Leonard Cohen, or Geoffrey Hill - each had a collection up for the prize, this year. And, there were few poets representing the other traditions in British poetry; and no Salt poets. I am sure someone somewhere is wishing Atwood and Ashbery had been selected - what a pre-award reading that would have been! And, doesn't it make the British poetry world seem a little parochial, and small, when they can't manage to recognise that (and this is ironic in the present context) Ashbery is the most significant, and canonically-influential American poet since, arguably, TS Eliot? His absence is also to be mourned for that reason.

Anyway, congratulations to all those on the list. May be the best poet win. ...

Who will win, now? With Nagra gone, the field is relatively wide open. I won't hazard a guess just yet, but will write more in early January before the final announcement of the winner.
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