Man versifying laddishly wins TS Eliot Prize
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Tuesday 20 January 1998
Scottish musician-turned-poet Don Paterson last night won the TS Eliot Prize, awarded by the Poetry Book Society for the year's best volume of verse. Paterson, who received his pounds 5,000 cheque from Valerie Eliot (Eliot's widow) at the British Library building, beat a shortlist that included St Lucia's Nobel laureate, Derek Walcott. His winning, second collection, God's Gift to Women, is published by Faber & Faber, where Eliot worked for 30 years.
One of the three judges, Hugo Williams, is also a Faber author. The Bloomsbury- based publisher had two titles on the shortlist of 10 (Walcott was the other); Newcastle's Bloodaxe Books managed five. The victory rounds off a high-profile week for Eliot's old firm, after it grabbed headlines with the poems Ted Hughes wrote in memory of Sylvia Plath.
Paterson was born in Dundee in 1963, moved to London in the 1980s and lives in Brighton. He has won the Arvon Poetry Competition and, in 1994, his first collection, Nil Nil, took the Forward Prize. A guitarist, he has recorded three albums with folk-jazz band Lammas.
As the titles of his collections hint, Paterson employs the laddish stand- bys of sport, sex, booze and - in his new volume, trains - to introduce toughly demotic yet lyrical reflections on love, art and time. God's Gift to Women, which has a running railway motif, even includes one memorable poem that consists of the names of forgotten Scottish branch-line stations. The Eliot prize, which last year went to the Australian sheep-farming bard Les Murray, may seem to have become a trophy that rewards testosterone. In both cases, the swagger is skin-deep.
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