Tuesday, January 25, 2011

T.S. Eliot Prize

You can read poems by all the finalists here, though, having done so, I'd advise against it. It's a dreary selection this year (insert Waste Land joke). Heaney's new book looks forbiddingly bad. I read a good part of Derek Walcott's -- which won -- at a bookshop some time ago; it's what one expects from late Walcott, clever images flabbily drawn. The stuff by Brian Turner, "soldier-poet," is the worst of the lot: there is a poem ending "just to hear another human voice, just to breathe in the dark." I sort of liked Annie Freud's "The Carvery Experience," and Pascale Petit's ekphrastics on Frida Kahlo are also mildly enjoyable. One of these has the lovely couplet "I can hear the bone-saw / of the ocean on the horizon." By far the best single poem, in my opinion, was Robin Robertson's "At Roane Head," which begins like this:

At Roane Head
for John Burnside 

You'd know her house by the drawn blinds –
by the cormorants pitched on the boundary wall,
the black crosses of their wings hung out to dry.
You'd tell it by the quicken and the pine that hid it
from the sea and from the brief light of the sun,
and by Aonghas the collie, lying at the door
where he died: a rack of bones like a sprung trap.

A fork of barnacle geese came over, with that slow
squeak of rusty saws. The bitter sea's complaining pull
and roll; a whicker of pigeons, lifting in the wood.
She'd had four sons, I knew that well enough,
and each one wrong. All born blind, they say,
slack-jawed and simple, web-footed,
rickety as sticks. Beautiful faces, I'm told,
though blank as air.
Someone saw them once, outside, hirpling
down to the shore, chittering like rats,
and said they were fine swimmers,
but I would have guessed at that.

No comments: