Thank God for that! For the past two years this prize has been enthralled to the indomitable Irishry - Ciaran Carson won it in 1993, and his chum Paul Muldoon in 1994 when Carson was one of the judges. This year there were no fewer than four Irish poets on the shortlist of 10 - if you count in that the delightful oddball Ian Duhig, who was born in London of Irish- Catholic parents.
The prize went to an American poet virtually unknown in this country, Mark Doty, whose first book to be published over here, My Alexandria (Cape, pounds 7), appeared in August last year. This decision also meant that those laddish lovables Maxwell and Armitage didn't win it either - which was a bit of a blow to the Faber publicity machine, who had been puffing Armitage's Dead Sea Poems as the book of the year ever since they first swooned at the news of the brilliant title.
The choice of Doty was as excellent as it was unpredictable, and we got a taste of how he performs in public at the Almeida Theatre on the previous evening when all 10 poets were put through their paces in front of a capacity audience. None of them seemed to enjoy the competitive spirit of the occasion very much. (Duhig, trembling and stuttering, told us that his publisher had just coined a collective noun for a group of poets that is obliged to read together: a paranoia of poets.) Doty, being new to an English audience, was the most fascinating spectacle.
He's a tall, lean man who sits bolt upright in his seat like a marionette and, when he stands in front of the microphone, appears to thrust his face at us as he reads, working lips and cheeks very hard, wetting his teeth with his tongue in order to stop himself falling into hoarseness. There's a snatch of a beard, a drizzle of a moustache, pale, intense eyes and a powerfully impassioned delivery. The poem he read - just one; all the other poets read several - was "Broadway", a characteristically opulent and caressing view of New York City which hugs the presence of the place like a person. All the poems of the past few years have been written out of the experience of his partner dying of Aids. Its terrible presence in his life has given him a quite enthralling capacity to evoke the minute preciousness of everything that is transitory.Reuse content