skip to Main Content

Who Will/Should Win The TS Eliot Prize 2010?

Any thoughts on the TS Eliot Prize? Who will win? Who should win? Do you think the whole thing is irrelevant and top-heavy with the usual publishers who invariably share out the places on these lists? Or would you argue that the winners are nearly always good books and that the prize contitutes important recognition for writers? All thoughts on this are welcome, although I don’t expect any degree of unity. Here’s the shortlist:

Seeing Stars – Simon Armitage (Faber)
The Mirabelles – Annie Freud (Picador)
You – John Haynes (Seren)
Human Chain – Seamus Heaney (Faber)
What the Water Gave Me – Pascale Petit (Seren)
The Wrecking Light – Robin Robertson (Picador)
Rough Music – Fiona Sampson (Carcanet)
Phantom Noise – Brian Turner (Bloodaxe)
White Egrets – Derek Walcott (Faber)
New Light for the Old Dark – Sam Willetts (Jonathan Cape)

This Post Has 12 Comments

  1. I have read 8 of the 10 collections short-listed, and a couple of poems from the other two. My fervent hope is that Brian Turner wins. His first collection “Here Bullet” was, in my pinion, the finest collection of war poems in recent years. This latest collection is very much a continuation of the themes and realities of war with the benefit of the passage of time. Whilst not losing any of the fierceness of the original collection there is a more considered quality here which I find very impressive. Together both of these works should be required reading for any serious study of war poetry. For me “Phantom Noise” is the most powerful of any of the collections, all of which show great skill and invention.

  2. It’s sure to be Heaney. The judges won’t dare to refuse the prize to a much-loved Nobel winner who isn’t very well physically so it may be his last book. The general lack of discussion this year suggests this is widely realised. It’s hard luck on the others to be shortlisted in the same year.

  3. Heaney probably will and should though Robertson’s book is excellent also. I really liked Freud’s and Petit’s books; Armitage’s too, maybe his best since ‘Book of Matches’ but even they, without Heany and Robertson would be up against Walcott.

  4. Not a list that makes your mouth water. Would love to have seen Winter’s Journey, by Stephen Dobyns, on the list. No collection has ever took my breath away like that one, despite the lack of structural skill.

    The list is easy to predict every year but still, The Wrecking Light has its moments, so I’d vote for that.

  5. Possibly the prize is becoming irrelevant because it only seems to consider people published in book format, whereas much of the most original work is to be found in the digital domain and uses multimedia effects. However there is so much out there to consider that possibly a prize such as this has to be in the conventional format.

    I thought the line-up was very strong, with much to commend in every entry that I have read, but did wonder if previous winners should be barred. The only disappointment was that so far I have come across little that is really ‘experimental’ – nothing to raise the turmoil that ‘The Wasteland’ did, when it was first published. Perhaps the organisers are not looking for the outrageous talent that sets new boundaries, or perhaps they are no longer to be found in this format. There is little here (from the samples I have read) to make one sit down and argue about broken boundaries and new forms of expression.

    Seamus Heaney will probably win and it will be deserved, except he has won so much before. Derek Walcott always writes well, but seems a little monothematic, and will the problem with the Oxford Chair count against him? Simon Armitage writes accessible lines full of wry humour. I really enjoyed what I have read of Fiona Sampson’s work and wish to read more by her. I would love John Haynes to win, but must admit that I am not being objective in that wish. His work is carved in strict metrical form like some dense obsidian sculpture. Of the rest any would be ‘worthy’ winners I suspect, although I have yet to sample Sam Willetts work. The trouble is knowing what the judges are really looking for in this. Do they want someone who is ‘clever’ or ‘musical’? Strict form or free, experimental or conventional. Populist or academic?

    In the final analysis do the wider public actually care about poetry or poets? I sometimes think that only poets read poetry for enjoyment anyway, and the ‘market’ is mostly educational.

  6. Is Heaney such a shoe-in for the prize. I don’t know. I really like much of his work, but I didn’t think Human Chain was one of his best collections, despite the presence of a few stand-out poems. I mean, compare it to Wintering Out or Station Island or The Haw Lantern or even the more recent Spirit Level. He has won it before and has already won the Forward Prize this year, so there may not be a sense that he needs to win it again. But I could be wrong.

    Richard, the TS Eliot Prize shortlists rarely if ever feature ‘experimental’ work. But there are still many writers who are trying to push boundaries in book format. This, of course, is not exactly an uncontentious issue!

  7. Not sure. The relative silence on this could mean:

    1. most people haven’t read many of the shortlisted books and don’t therefore feel qualified to pick a favourite, or
    2. people don’t care who wins, or
    3. people are so sure it’s going to be Heaney that it hardly seems worth discussing, or
    4. they are all pretty good books, but without an obvious stand-out, and therefore there’s no way to predict a winner, or
    5. the judges (Anne Stevenson, Bernardine Evaristo and Michael Symmons Roberts) are diverse in style and, no doubt, taste, and it’s hard to guess in which direction things are going to fall.

    Or have I missed anything?

  8. I’m not too sure about Heaney either. I was underwhelmed by Human Chain – which is one side effect of being an incredibly famous poet.

    I’d like to see Petit of Freud win. I particularly liked Petit’s collection – it works for me as just that – a collection.

    And, I think the prize is still important for poets, publishers and readers. There is plenty of chatter about it this year on facebook, twitter and blogs. The readings are always buzzing.

    All competitions are open to criticism – since the Eliot is the biggest in the UK, it gets a lion’s share of the criticism too. That doesn’t mean it isn’t still the biggest!

  9. I don’t think the eponymous hero of this prize would even get onto its longlist if he were to write the 21st century equivalent of The Wasteland – there are few magazines which take experimental work, and I’m not sure he’d find a publisher for a book – mostly for the reasons outlined in the parallel blog to this: if Eliot isn’t abstract and clever-clever then nobody is.Experimental work on the net, while useful to the writers for peer review, is a non-starter for general readers (and the large percentage of people without access, who aren’t necessarily illiterate).

  10. I think Robin Robertson should win – some excellent poetry here – I also enjoyed his translation of Tomas Transtromer’s poetry. However, I think Simon Armitage will win, but Heaney and Walcott – give us a break!

Comments are closed.

Back To Top