Sometimes, although this can be rare, planned outings have a way of working out perfectly and this is what happened with yesterday evening’s trip to the TS Eliot reading. Perhaps it is the effect of the South Bank weaving a kind of magic as it did last September when I was there for the reading about Edward Thomas. He managed to tiptoe into last night’s event too, with a mention in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem about the counties of England.
So the T.S. Eliot prize. Who should win? Well all of them of course although my personal favourites are David Harsent and Esther Morgan. Ian McMillan was the perfect choice as MC, giving the audience permission to gasp, to murmur, to laugh and reminding us we were a tribe – all 1,700 of us in the auditorium. Apparently those on stage could not see us in the dark and they may have been dazzled by the lights hence the importance of the laughs, gasps and murmurs. On the whole the male poets seemed to deal with the nerves better, except perhaps John Burnside who had to perform a magic trick of his own to make a bottle of water appear under the lectern not once but twice and from which he took hasty gulps. During the evening I found myself preferring the men’s poems but realising at the same time I was being unduly influenced by the lower register of the male voice and the confident delivery which made their poems appear to have more layers to peel off. I warmed to Carol Ann Duffy again, whose poetry I loved before she became poet laureate and therefore a member of the establishment or so I mistakenly decided. I was wrong – she is as honest and spiky as ever.
There were a surprising number of angels in the poems – most obviously in Esther Morgan’s poems. Also dead parents and the evening ended with Carol Ann remembering her mother – a poignant moment. That is one of the purposes of poetry to give continued life to those who have gone on before us. Discuss?