First Night: Poetry prize hopefuls have to play it by ear
TS Eliot Prize Readings Almeida Theatre London
Monday 11 January 1999
Last night the 10 shortlisted poets had to read from their books in front of an audience at Islington's Almeida Theatre to find out if the work was as good on the ear as it had seemed to be on the page.
Tonight the winner will be announced at the British Library. The pounds 5,000 prize is not enormous, but the prestige of an award sponsored by Mrs TS Eliot is worth at least a million dollars more, and penniless poets are used to dining out on their reputations. The award was established in 1993 and male Celts for the most part have dominated until now - two Irishmen, one Scotsman and that honorary Celt, Les Murray, have won in the past.
This year the English are in with a chance, though - the late Ted Hughes is on the short-list with Birthday Letters, and there are excellent collections by Jo Shapcott, Ruth Padel and Ken Smith.
Tom Paulin, representing Hughes, turns in a perplexingly ironised version of the originals, though when he reads the poem "Daffodils" we are treated to the best poem of the evening.
The Irish poet Paul Muldoon, who won in 1994, is playful, deft, compulsive to watch and listen to, a natural joker. Padel reads three love poems from Rembrandt Would Have Loved You with a deft conversational ease.
Ken Smith lurches on to the stage to conclude the evening. He stares at the back wall of the theatre, at its crude, unadorned brick. "I've been staring at this bloody wonderful wall all evening. I don't know whether it's artificial or not but it looks pretty real to me ..." Still shaking his head, he turns back to the audience and, leaning forward exaggeratedly,speaks in a growly, gravelly whisper, poems about his life as an itinerant poet in Prague, in Ukraine, and among those long-legged, sheep-herding mountain people who told very old jokes about the Russian landing on the Moon because they lived so far from anywhere.
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
Weather bomb in pictures: Storms cuts power for tens of thousands – and snow is on the way
Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
Russell Brand was rendered speechless on Question Time by this man
Fury at Airbus after it hints the super-jumbo may be mothballed
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
Panic Saturday: 13 million Britons spend £1.2bn – while 13 million others across the country live in poverty unable to afford food
£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An opportunity has arisen for a...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...
£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We have an excellent role for a...