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PICK OF THE WEEK

The first big literary award ceremony of the year takes place on Monday, with the announcement of the winner of the pounds 5,000 TS Eliot Prize for poetry. For several years now, Islington's Almeida Theatre has hosted an eve- of-award poetry reading, which is every bit as snazzy an occasion as the prize-giving itself. Sunday's event showcases the 10 short-listed contenders, and offers as good an opportunity as you'll get to survey the full range of contemporary British and Irish poetry.

Paul Muldoon (above), the much-imitated grand wizard of playful punning narratives, makes the trip over from the States to read from his latest collection, Hay. A skittering whirligig of words, Hay offers curious illuminations on emu-catching, takes a spin round his record collection (Nirvana to Leonard Cohen) and dips into the double-scoop vanilla cleavage of the girl in the ice-cream shop.

Alongside Ken Smith and David Harsent, Fred D'Aguiar delivers his sequence Bill of Rights, about the 1978 Guyanese mass-suicide at Jonestown; while clever-boy formalist Glyn Maxwell reads from The Breakage, with its jaunty catalogue of sorrinesses such as "Robert Falcon Scott who lost the race to a Norwegian, / And anyone who's ever spilt the pint of a Glaswegian."

Late Review polymath Tom Paulin reads from Ted Hughes' Birthday Letters, Susan Wicks reads for Welsh newcomer Sarah Corbett who'll be busy having her baby; and last year's prizewinner Don Paterson reads on behalf of Jo Shapcott: "Lean forward and put a finger / on the spot you think the dream is", Shapcott invites in her sultry collection, My Life Asleep. Enjoy her fantastical leaps into the minds of mad cows, metamorphising nymphs, and the lovelorn dove left behind on Noah's ark while his mate went looking for olive twigs.

Jackie Kay slips wittily between the themes of disease and racial prejudice in her spirited collection Off Colour, diving from dentist's chair to sick bed, to dissect the "scary bits cowering inside the flesh" fortified by a bottle of "orange nostalgia" Lucozade. In Rembrandt Would Have Loved You, Ruth Padel conducts the "fugue of held-in hurt" of a passionate affair, trilling with joyous late-night sing-songs, and broken liaisons: "Whatever self is, I'd like mine to wake up with yours."

TS Eliot Prize Reading, Almeida Theatre, London N1, tomorrow, 7.30pm (0171-359 4404) pounds 8/pounds 6 concs

Judith Palmer

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