T S Eliot Prize Tour – Halifax to Glasgow

Square Chapel, Halifax – 25 September

On 25 September the tour visits The Square Chapel in Halifax. The line up consists of John Burnside, who is one of only three poets to have won both the T S Eliot and Forward Prize for the same book, Black Cat Bone, in 2011. The Asylum Dance (2000) and The Light Trap (2001) were also both shortlisted for the Eliot Prize. Also reading will be Christopher Reid, whose collection A Scattering, was shortlisted for the Eliot Prize in 2009; Fiona Sampson, whose collections Common Prayer and Rough Music were shortlisted for the Eliot Prize in 2007 and 2010 respectively. They are joined by Zaffar Kunial, who placed third in the National Poetry Competition in 2011 and is currently working on his first collection.

Tickets are available now, priced at £12/£10 from 01422 349 422 or squarechapel.co.uk

For more information on the Tour, see our websites.


John Burnside’s ‘A Game of Marbles’

The things I love
I bury in the woods
to keep them safe.
The pearl-effect,
the cherry-red and gold,
the touch of her
like tallow
on my skin.

Her sister
gives me silks
and Calla flowers,
I win a princess
and a devil’s eye
and bury them alive
while she is
sleeping.

The earth turns cold,
and my fingers brush the dead,
over the trees
a blue moon
sails through the sky.
I dig through leaf and mould,
I dig through bone,
slivers of glass
and ashes in the rain

and afterwards
the woods are like
a hymn
that, when I think of it,
I think of her:
the oxblood of her mouth,
her silver tongue,
milk on her fingers,
the hurry of pain
in her eyes

from Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape, 2011)

From Christopher Reid’s Six Bad Poets (Part 1)

Jonathan Wilderness, a young poet on the make,
is sharing instant coffee and a joint
with his friend Baz, a self-employed criminal.
‘Plans?’ he says. ‘Sure, I’ve got plans. You won’t catch me
wasting my youth and beauty here.’ With disgust,
he surveys the kitchen where they’re sitting.

Distinctly foppish in this squalid setting,
where everything wears a tinge of grinme and murk –
hard to say which is more heavily greased,
frying-pan or floor – he adds: ‘No, I shan’t
be more than a fortnight. End of May,
at the latest.’ With a long and exquisite fingernail,

he picks at a scab of ketchup, all but annealed
to the table-top. ‘That’s for certain.
Then I’m off and away and you won’t see me
for stardust.’ ‘Yeah,’ Baz says, with a smirk;
‘but the plan?’ Jonathan keeps at his urgent,
fastidious work on the crimson crust

for a while, apparently too engrossed
to answer, till: ‘Nothing’s final,
you understand, but I’ve got this ancient,
clapped-out poet in my sights: a sitting
duck, you might say; fat, juicy, smack
in my line of fire – and just begging to have me

write his biography. Or so he will when he meets me.
Our paths haven’t, as yet, actually crossed.
But when they do, there’ll be plenty of much
to rummage around in. Vintage quality. Vinyl.
A whole cart of bad apples, ready for upsetting.
Of course, I’ll need a good, unscrupulous agent.’

A rangy girl strolls in, naked and nonchalant.
Jonathan frowns at her: ‘Oh, Mimi,
must you?’ Baz finds this fairly exciting,
but Jonathan’s underjoyed: ‘Not when we have a guest.
If you can’t be arsed to put your clothes on, I’ll…’
She yawns, turns about, and leaves, making no remark.

from Six Bad Poets (Faber, 2013)


Fiona Sampson’s ‘Envoi’

What we hope for
is a time to come

when we’ll look back on these afternoons
coined with leaf-shadow and rain

as if to a beautiful exception,
that clarity

in gaze or touch –
the sudden rightness of a room,

blood-clot cherries in a blue bowl
and hogweed frothing at the window –

realising then
what it meant to live this way,

finding perfume from things we dream of
in the grain of a table,

the dust that shifts on the summer sill.

from Rough Music (Carcanet, 2010)

Zaffar Kunial’s ‘Hill Speak’

There is no dictionary for my father’s language.
His dialect, for a start, is difficult to name.
Even this taxi driver, who talks it, lacks the knowledge.
Some say it’s Pahari – ‘hill speak’ –
others, Potwari, or Pahari-Potwari –
too earthy and scriptless to find a home in books.
This mountain speech is a low language. Ours. “No good.
You should learn speak Urdu.” I’m getting the runaround.

Whatever it is, this talk, going back, did once have a script:
Landa, in the reign of the Buddhists.
… So was Dad’s speech some kind of Dogri?
Is it Kashmiri? Mirpuri? The differences are lost on me.
I’m told it’s part way towards Punjabi,
but what that tongue would call tuvarda,
Dad would agree was tusaana –
‘yours’ –

truly, though there are many dictionaries for the tongue I speak,
it’s the close-by things I’m lost to say;
things as pulsed and present as the back of this hand,
never mind stumbling towards some higher plane.
And, either way, even at the rare moment I get towards –
or, thank God, even getting to –
my point, I can’t put into words
where I’ve arrived.

Ludlow Assembly Rooms – 27 September

After Halifax the tour moves on to Ludlow Assembly Rooms on 27 September. Reading at Ludlow will be Philip Gross, who won the T S Eliot Prize in 2009 with The Water Table; Gillian Clarke, whose Ice was shortlisted for the Eliot Prize in 2012; Frances Leviston, whose début collection Public Dream was shortlisted for the Eliot Prize in 2007; and Luke Kennard, who is the youngest poet to ever be shortlisted for the Forward Prize for best collection for his second collection The Harbour Beyond the Movie in 2007.

Tickets are available, priced at £8/£6, from 01584 878 141 or www.ludlowassemblyrooms.co.uk

Philip Gross’ ‘Yalta, 1945’

Jigging the text, the torn tracts, till they slot
and settle, the inscribers of the coming age
lean back from the table. One folds a page
down, crisply. There’ll be i’s to dot
etcetera after lunch. Black pips of shot
in purple pigeon breasts (bred in the cage
for shotgun wars the house-guests wage)
are spat discreetly out, bones picked, and what
shudders of moon cross the lawn, what steel
zinging of bats as they stuka the lake…?
the spoils of peace: the drafts and maps discarded,
numbers estimated who will wake to feel
the margins closing, run, sleep rough, take
their chance, ford rivers; the bridges are guarded.

from The Water Table (Bloodaxe, 2009)

Gillian Clarke’s ‘Six Bells’
for the forty-four miners killed in the explosion on 28 June 1960

Perhaps a woman hanging out the wash
paused, hearing something, a sudden hush,
a pulse inside the earth like a blow to the heart,
holding in her arms the wet weight
of her wedding sheets, his shirts. Perhaps
heads lifted from the work of scrubbing steps,
hands stilled from wringing rainbows onto slate,
while below the town, deep in the pit
a rock-fall struck a spark from steel, and fired
the void, punched through the mine a fist
of blazing firedamp. As they died,
perhaps a silence, before sirens cried,
before the people gathered in the street,
before she’d finished hanging out her sheets.

from Ice (Carcanet, 2012)

Frances Leviston’s ‘Scandinavia’

I think I could be happy there, north of fame, in light
unbroken; blending the imagined hours’ horizons into sky, sky
through soft-heaped fields, unclaimed, their rims forever
reforming at the wind’s deft caprice. I could try
to live as a glass of water, utterly clear and somehow
restrained, a sip that tells you nothing
but perpetuates the being-there; could sit, lie, settle down, the white
of one idea entirely lost upon another, as rain is lost
in the shift of the sea, as a single consecrated face
drowns in the swell of the Saturday host, and the notion of loving
that one critically more than any other flake in a flurry
melts, flows back to folly’s pool, the lucid public dream.           

from Public Dream (Picador, 2007)

Luke Kennard’s ‘Leather-Bound Road’

Should anybody ask me how we met I’ll read them
Ansel Adams on photography and say it’s in
the way the artist brings out of the landscape
what the frame brings out of the painting.
Which is to say you bring out the best in me,
but not the way the Maillard reaction
brings out the best in food through the combination
of amino acids, reducing sugars and heat.
It’s more the way the right wine brings out the right light
and the scene reflected in your eye places me
front and centre, peering in, trying to describe the colour.
It’s what the singer does between the words
that makes the words the words and not just words.
The way the crows that currant-stud the risen green
don’t startle as I cycle through and crunch the gears.
Distracted weavers weave their hair into the tapestry,
a knight which leapt six hours ago makes sense now.
The way the symphony opens up only when you know
what’s coming next, your place in it and why (or not).
The way the past’s not even past and looking back
I overlooked the beauty of the worst of it.
The exam flunked, the form misfiled, the blown bulb
and the curtain drawn which caused the bar’s inviting glow.
This way that led with more coincidence and happenstance
than a minor Victorian novel and yet with the absolute
conviction of its binding, and with gratitude, to you.

from A Lost Expression (Salt, 2012)

Mitchell Library, Glasgow – 30 September

On 30 September the Tour will head north to Glasgow for a line-up of Scottish poets at the Mitchell Library: Don Paterson, the only poet with two T S Eliot Prize wins to his name; Kathleen Jamie, shortlisted twice for the T S Eliot Prize with The Tree House in 2004 and The Overhaul in 2012; Robert Crawford, whose last collection Full Volume was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize in 2008; and Billy Letford, whose first collection Bevel was published in 2012 by Carcanet.

Tickets are available, priced at £5, from 0141 353 8000 or www.ayewrite.com

Don Paterson’s ‘Rain’

I love all films that start with rain:
rain, braiding a windowpane
or darkening a hung-out dress
or streaming down her upturned face;

one big thundering downpour
right through the empty script and score
before the act, before the blame,
before the lens pulls through the frame

to where the woman sits alone
beside a silent telephone
or the dress lies ruined on the grass
or the girl walks off the overpass,

and all things flow out from that source
along their fatal watercourse.
However bad or overlong
such a film can do no wrong,

so when his native twang shows through
or when the boom dips into view
or when her speech starts to betray
its adaptation from the play,

I think to when we opened cold
on a starlit gutter, running gold
with the neon of a drugstore sign
and I’d read into its blazing line:

forget the ink, the milk, the blood –
all was washed clean with the flood
we rose up from the falling waters
the fallen rain’s own sons and daughters

and none of this, none of this matters.

From Rain (Faber, 2009)


Kathleen Jamie’s ‘The Stags’

This is the multitude, the beasts
you wanted to show me, drawing me
upstream, all morning up through wind –
scoured heather to the hillcrest.
Below us, in the next glen, is the grave
calm brotherhood, descended
out of winter, out of hunger, kneeling
like the signatories of a covenant;
their weighty, antique-polished antlers
rising above a vegetation
like masts in a harbour, or city spires.
We lie close together, and though the wind
whips away our man-and-woman smell, every
stag-face seems to look toward us, toward,
but not to us: we’re held, and hold them,
in civil regard. I suspect you’d
hoped to impress me, to lift to my sight
our shared country, lead me deeper
into what you know, but loath
to cause fear you’re already moving
quietly away, sure I’ll go with you,
as I would now, almost anywhere.

From The Overhaul (Picador, 2012)

Robert Crawford’s ‘The Ear’

Locust Street
Was his first locus,
Cicadas singing
Through carless nights,

And in the distance
God-given gifts
Of ragtime
To a shy, white boy

Reading by lamplight
On windless evenings,
Crisp turning pages’
Tace et fac


As the big river
Went on forever
Articulating
Without a word

Where the Missouri
Joins the Mississippi,
Their waters swelled there
By the Illinois,

Late drip-drop raindrops,
A coal fire’s crackle,
No airconditioning
Conditioned him.

All explanation
Is mere evasion,
In the end only
The ear is sound.

from Full Volume (Jonathan Cape, 2008)

Billy Letford’s ‘Be Prepared’

wear three T-shirts and one hooded top
layers are important
they can always come off
remember your oilskins
it’s always raining somewhere
wear a scarf
cold air moves down from the neck
wear gloves
they’re useless when wet
but handy if you hit the wrong nail
pay attention to the moment
the way water drips
the way a spider scuttles
have a healthy fear of heights
when working from a ladder
know which way to fall
railings and slabs are unforgiving
flower beds and fuchsia bushes are better
practise your scream
if you strike your thumb with the hammer
don’t squeal
roar like a lion
when the pain subsides and you look around
you’ll know exactly what I mean
acknowledge the moon
it was part of the earth once
its loneliness can make you feel beautiful
lift properly
you’ll need your back to make your money

from Bevel (Carcanet, 2012)

For more information about the tour, visit our website.

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