Saturday, 6 November 2010

The Aldeburgh Prize shortlist's "lack of experimentation"

In this review essay in today's Guardian on the shortlisted books for the Aldeburgh first collection prize, John O'Donoghue notes "the lack of experimentation" and warmly mentions, from the Forward first collection prize shortlist, Steve Spence's A Curious Shipwreck. There's already a flurry of responses on the webpage, but the discussion quickly, predictably became unwieldy. Your thoughts would be most welcome here.


  1. Coincidentally, I’ve just finished Steve Spence’s book. I loved it and am currently asking myself why, and may blog about that if I can find anything worth saying. That said, I don’t think I’d look at the Forward shortlist more favourably than the Aldeburgh one just because A Curious Shipwreck was on it. The Forward shortlist for the main prize was Faber 3 (Seamus Heaney, Lachlan Mackinnon, Jo Shapcott), Carcanet 2 (Fiona Sampson, Sinead Morrissey), Picador 1 (Robin Robertson), which suggests pretty strongly where the judges’ sympathies lie.

    I have read poems from some other books on the First Collection shortlists, but the only other book I’ve read in full from either shortlist is the Tony Williams, which is very good and less conventional than the Guardian report makes it sound. I think I know what John O’D means when he mentions Wordsworth and Betjeman in connection with it, but the comparison with the latter might have put me off reading the book if I hadn’t already known Tony Williams’s writing. I can’t stand Betjeman. I’m sure the books on the shortlists are good books, but there isn’t anything like the range you’d expect, given the diverse range of quality poetry books available.

    If we look to the USA’s national book award, you’ll find a genuinely eclectic shortlist in the poetry section - But then, look at the judges and you’ll find Linda Gregerson and Cornelius Eady lining up alongside Brenda Shaughnessy and Rae Armantrout! Imagine how different the prize-making maps would be in Britain if their ‘equivalents’ (unimaginable, I know) were appointed to judge the major competitions.

  2. Thanks for your comment, Rob. I make the same remarks about the range of books shortlisted/awarded prizes in the US in my introduction to Infinite Difference, as a way of showing the possibilities for a wider spectrum of poetry given recognition. I don't know what it will take for that kind of change to take hold here; what little hope I have lies with some of the twenty- and thirty-something UK poets who have and espouse a more pluralist attitude, such as Luke Kennard, George Ttoouli, James Brookes, and Charlotte Newman.