T S Eliot Prize Tour recap – Glasgow, 30 September


Billy Letford reads at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library as part of the T S Eliot Prize Tour

William Letford opened the reading in front of a hundred-strong audience in his characteristic generous manner that never fails to draw the audience in. Among the many highlights was the palpable recognition at the end of Letford’s poem ‘Wit Is It’. The setting might be everyday but the insight offered here, and the way it is captured in verse, forces us to slow down and look again at that most Scottish, and indeed British, of phenomena; rainfall. This quality of looking at the world with fresh eyes is threaded through the poems in Letford’s first collection Bevel and is perhaps crystallized in a poem like ‘We Are’ with its headlong rush through language which Letford recites so fast that the words almost slough off meaning (which is fitting, given the way the poem ends with an admission of the limits of language).

Robert Crawford reads at Glasgow's Mitchell Library

Robert Crawford reads at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library

Robert Crawford began by reading poems that came to him in the aftermath of a prose book (On Glasgow and Edinburgh) which he admitted he had ‘hoped would be a book of poems’. This seemed particularly appropriate given the current political climate in Scotland and illustrated the value of nuance and subtlety in addressing politics as well as what poets can make of the various frictions at the heart of questions of identity. As well as these poems Crawford read a poem in celebration of T S Eliot (on whom Crawford has already written one book and is in the process of writing another). ‘The Ear’, so called
because Eliot had ‘perhaps the greatest ear of any 20th Century poet’, was a testament to the enduring power of Eliot’s work and a fitting poem for the occasion.

Kei Miller reads at Glasgow's Mitchell Library

Kei Miller reads at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library

Kei Miller read exclusively from his forthcoming collection The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion which attempts to mix theories of map-making with the philosophies of Rastafarianism. The first poem, ‘Groundation’, takes up the task that is at the heart of the book, mediating on the Rastafari celebration of the same name but also the notion of grounded-ness, of terra firma. This was followed by a selection of poems from the title sequence of the book in which the cartographer is introduced, as one whose role is to ‘imagine what loss might feel like’. Miller then read a sequence within a sequence which mused on place names (in this case the provenance, apocryphal as it turns out, of the name ‘Shotover’). The final poem, one that Miller characterised as ‘flippant’ because it is about a cargo of rubber ducks lost at sea in 1992, was nonetheless a powerful evocation of the various possibilities offered up by travel.

Kathleen Jamie reads at Glasgow's Mitchell Library

Kathleen Jamie reads at Glasgow’s Mitchell Library

Kathleen Jamie began with a poem called ‘The Beach’ which captures the appeal of beaches as places we go to ‘[hope] for the marvellous’ in the wake of a storm but also has something to say – if we read-in, as poetry audiences are wont to do – about dealing with the various changes life throws up. The practice of beach-combing is not unlike Jamie’s method (her mode of composition favours a concision and economy that clarifies; leaving the flotsam and jetsam behind and presenting the reader with the precious haul). Jamie followed this with poems from her sequence ‘Five Tay Sonnets’ which returned to the idea of beginning again in the aftermath of a disaster in the poem ‘Springs’ which asks a river, that has burst its banks, ‘what have you left us?’.


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