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.
Simon 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 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.’
Jacob 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.