The TS Eliot Prize Readings 2014 at Royal Festival Hall
In 2013 the TS Eliot Prize celebrated its 20th anniversary since its inauguration in 1993 to honour its founding poet. The first prize, won in 2012 by Sharon Olds, sees the winner awarded £15,000, while those shortlisted all win £1,000 each. Making up the ten shortlisters for the 2013 prize at this year’s event are: Daljit Nagra, with Ramayana; Moniza Alvi, with At the Time of Partition; Maurice Riordan, with The Water Stealer; Anne Carson, with Red Doc; Michael Symmons Roberts, with Drysalter; Dannie Abse, with Speak, Old Parrot; Helen Mort, with Division Street; George Szirtes, with Bad Machine; Sinéad Morrissey, with Parallax; and Robin Robertson, with Hill of Doors.
Poet and BBC broadcaster Ian Macmillan hosts the event, seamlessly segueing each reading, and introducing each poet with insightful comments about their respective works.
The skill it requires to effectively address a large audience, however, is not intrinsically linked to poetic prowess, and so poets are not necessarily natural performance artists. Tonight each poet has the responsibility of bringing their work to life on stage. Unfortunately, some fall short of the challenge, and the result is a skewed representation of words that are beautiful in print.
Some of the shortlisters, however, meet the task of live performance in inspiring and moving ways. Daljit Nagra casts his wife and three fellow poets as different characters from Ramayana, bringing the extract alive on stage. Anne Carson, who is unable to attend the event, enlists scholar and poet Ruth Padel to read on her behalf. Padel knows the poem she is performing off by heart and only makes the occasional glance down at the book, allowing her a connection with the audience filled with power and clarity. An outstanding performance also comes from long-acclaimed poet Dannie Abse, whose charm and skilful poetic delivery lead the audience through roaring laughter, rapt silence, moving us to tears. During his allotted eight minutes on stage, Abse is the only poet to receive applause after a poem partway through his reading.
Photo: Courtesy of TS Eliot Prize
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