To Skinner’s Hall in the City last Monday, 12 January, for the T S Eliot Prize Awards Ceremony. Chair of the Judges Andrew Motion - flanked by fellow judges, Lavinia Greenlaw and Tobias Hill – took his time making the announcement. In alphabetical order he summed up the achievement of each of the ten short-listed poets [see below] but paused a while longer as he reached Mick Imlah. Imlah - a favourite, along with Ciaran Carson, to win - had died that morning having been ill for a year with motor neurone disease.
"He was one of the cleverest, most interesting, and sweet-natured people I have ever met," said Motion, holding back tears.
He said that Imlah’s work would go on being read as long as there were people to read poetry. He also said he could hear his friend’s voice whispering in his ear not to let his demise hang over the evening. “This is not Mick’s memorial service nor his wake.”
And so he announced the winner, Jen Hadfield, a thirty-year-old, Cheshire born poet who has adopted Shetland and its language.
Gasps of delight collided with gasps of disbelief. Hadfield’s family burst into audible sobs. Hadfield had a modest ‘Kate Winslet’ moment, but, more dignified that KW, she quietly wiped away tears and invited the audience to join in the refrain as she read the poem, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen This Is a Horse as Magritte Might Paint Him.’
“I’be very happy if you’d do that,” she said, then added. “I’m very happy.”
Hadfield was a surprising choice, the youngest on the list, Nigh-No-Place being her second collection. Motion said her work was “a revelation, energetic, iconoclastic.”
Looks as if our own PRG has a way to go in being a reliable predictor of winners! Over two meetings in November and December we read and discussed all of the shortlist. An extract from our meeting notes shows what we thought of Nigh-No-Place:
“what stands out is a freshness of language; language enjoyed for its music and sensory delight. We’re not rewarded with layers beneath. Poems are vivid snapshots of nature and landscapes [Alberta, Shetland], influenced by Ted Hughes, although the ejaculating sausages are very much Hadfield’s own. We enjoyed ‘Witless’ and ‘This Is Us Saint’s Day’. But with a poem such as ‘Nigh-No-Place’, wonder if it’s for performance rather than the page?” Certainly her performance of that poem at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Sunday 11 January, was a breath of fresh air. She is a mesmerizing reader of her own work. She’s quirky, anarchic, a poet of place, with a sharp ear and eye. One to watch?
And perhaps we had some overlap with judge Tobias Hill who published his judging notes on Hadfield here.
Meanwhile, more on the short-listed poets at the PBS website, where there should also be available some time soon a podcast of all the 11 January readings …
Moniza Alvi Europa (Bloodaxe)
Peter Bennet The Glass Swarm (Flambard)
Ciaran Carson For All We Know (Gallery Books)
Robert Crawford Full Volume (Cape)
Maura Dooley Life Under Water (Bloodaxe)
Mark Doty Theories and Apparitions (Cape)
Mick Imlah The Lost Leader (Faber)
Glyn Maxwell Hide Now (Picador)
Stephen Romer Yellow Studio (Carcanet)