The T S Eliot Prize

As a novice in the world of poetry I attended the Shortlist Readings of the T S Eliot Prize with a sense of excited anticipation. The event was well organised and ran very smoothly, and I have to say that in the person of eight out of ten poets (rather like ‘eight out of ten cat owners’) my expectations were fully met and in several cases exceeded.

Nothing can really match an accomplished poet reading his/her own work. They were, without exception, consummate performers. The Festival Hall housed an audience of around two thousand who listened in silent awe to each poet deliver a sample of the best of their work this year.

ImageSimon Armitage gave a witty introduction to his reading, speculating on ‘what can I do to win this year?’—his last collection Seeing Stars was shortlisted in 2010. He read a section of his contemporary retelling of the four thousand line alliterative Morte Arthure (The Death of King Arthur). I enjoyed it much more that I expected to. His writing has certainly caught my attention, and I shall be looking back at  his previous works with more than a little interest. I have also been reliably informed that he is a speaker well worth listening to.

Paul Farley gave a very entertaining reading of several of his poems from The dark filmDark Film, waving airily in what he thought might be the direction of the Royal Box, glasses perched precariously on the tip of his nose. His last poem finished with the declaration: ‘Oh fuck! I’m the queen.’

havocsJacob Polley topped them all with his rendition of ‘Langly Lane’ from The Havocs. He was the only poet to receive spontaneous applause after reading his first poem. His book is now in my hands and I’m happy to say the rest of his work is of the same wonderfully high standard.

He should have won.

‘The Chemistry Between Us—love, sex, and the science of attraction’ Larry Young, PhD and Brian Alexander

ImageThis is an engaging book that addresses questions such as:

  • How does love begin?
  • What drives mothers to care for their babies?
  • What accounts for the gender of the people at whom we aim our affection?
  • What does it mean to say one is male or female?

The book is based on rigorous research using data from both animal and human subjects. It has been written to be accessible to a non-scientific reader. In order to build and develop the theoretical arguments to address the above questions, Young and Alexander describe and explain the significance of the experiments carried out—some readers may find this aspect of the book disturbing.

Young and Alexander manage to convey complex theory in a clear and concise manner. Effective use is made of wry humour to lighten what could be quite dense material. Diagrams are occasionally used to help clarify particular issues, though on a personal note I have to admit that I did occasionally skip over some of the more technical terms.

‘Mindstar Rising’ by Peter F. Hamilton

The cover of the 17th November 2012 edition of New Scientist headlined:


Five years ago we feared the worst. But it’s looking even worse than that.

It seems that the climate models were wrong. The rate-of-loss of arctic ice, the increase in rainfall intensity, and the searing heat waves have already reached the levels that were predicted for the end of this century. As I read the dire warnings of more extreme weather in the northern hemisphere, the current and expected fall in crop yields in the UK due to heavy rainfall, the need to develop heat-tolerant crop varieties, and the likely flooding of many low-lying cities—the world created by Peter F. Hamilton in the Greg Mandel trilogy came to mind.

ImageHamilton’s first novel, Mindstar Rising, is set in England, where global warming has reshaped the physical, social and economic state of the country. Note that I said England; political chaos and industrial collapse have resulted in Wales and Scotland existing as separate political and economic entities. In the novel, massive flooding created a huge refugee problem, necessitating the requisition of buildings (shops, hotels etc.) under the government’s ‘one home policy’ to provide emergency housing. This re-imagined England has spent the past twelve years sweltering under bright hot skies, with high humidity and an annual rainy season. Most of the familiar plants and trees are gone, replaced by more tropical varieties. Low lying areas used for farming have been reduced to mud-clogged marshlands and bogs, and every available green space has been appropriated for raising crops.

Peterborough is the new industrial capital—referred to in the book as the new Hong Kong. ‘If you can’t get it in Peterborough, you can’t get it anywhere.’

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