T. S. Eliot Prize News

Poem of the Week

Poem of the week this week comes from Kevin Powers’ Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting, published by Sceptre. Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. You can hear a reading from his collection here.

‘Letter Composed During a Lull in the Fighting’

I tell her I love her like not killing
or ten minutes of sleep
beneath the low rooftop wall
on which my rifle rests.

I tell her in a letter that will stink,
when she opens it,
of bolt oil and burned powder
and the things it says.

I tell her how Private Bartle says, offhand,
that war is just us
making little pieces of metal
pass through each other.

Poem of the Week

Poem of the week this week comes from Pascale Petit’s Fauverie, published by Seren. Fauverie was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. You can hear Pascale reading from this collection here.

‘Portrait of My Father as a Bird Fancier’

The man with an aviary – the one
sparrows follow as he shuffles along,
helping him with caresses of their wings.
The one a nightingale serenades
just because he’s in pain – that’s
the father I choose, not the man
who thrusts red-hot prongs in their eyes
so their songs will carry for miles.
He is not the kind to tie their wings. No.
My father’s nightingale will pine for him
when he dies. My Papa
with a warbler on each shoulder
and a linnet on his head, the loner
even crows chatter to. He does not
cut the nerves of their tongues
so they will sing sweeter.
When my father’s bullfinch has a bad dream
only his voice can calm it.
The hoopoe warms itself on his stove.
It leaps in the air when he wakes
and rubs its breast against his face.
It can tell what mood he’s in at a glance
and will raise its crest in alarm
if Papa struggles for breath.
My father’s chaffinch can bring him
all the birdsong from the wood.
He does not glue its eyelids
shut so it will sing night and day.
He does not make canaries trill so loud
that the tiny branches of their lungs
burst. I am sure of this, though I am just
an ounce in the fist of his hand.


Poem of the Week

Poem of the week this week comes from Ruth Padel’s Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth, published by Chatto & Windus. Learning to Make an Oud in Nazareth was shortlisted for the 2014 T. S. Eliot Prize. You can hear Ruth reading from this collection here.

‘Capoeira Boy’

I saw him on YouTube. He was learning the martial art
that masks fighting as dance; the rocking, foot-
to-foot ginga bracing him for kicks, swipes
and thistle-light acrobalance. He was finding how to spin,

feint, soar with his opponent. You could worry about him,
at least I did, but I saw he was loved. A favourite
perhaps. Enough anyway to give hope a chance
despite his lumbering, faintly victim, stance

as the two circled each other, holding their arms
off their torsos like cormorants drying their wings.
He was seven or eight, wearing glasses. Eagerness
shone out of him inside the ring of boys

chanting to a tambourine. They knew slaves in Brazil
made the rules. Only by dance do you learn how to fight.
Only by fight how to dance. And also that kids like them,
on the West Bank, could learn this in Hebron.

I saw him on YouTube in Jalazoun Refugee Camp.
The teacher, laughing, supervised falls, accidents,
cat’s whisker escapes. I imagined he was telling them
Squat and spin! Flat on your hands! Aim your kick in his face –

let him duck – then cartwheel away. This is all about you
but you’re nothing without him. Let the dance-fight-dance
set you free. Free of the six-lane motorway
shaking the camp with its sorrowful vibrations.

Free of the twenty-foot wall of cement, a stage set for Macbeth.
Grey olives flickered beyond, on hills where I guessed
older men like his grandfather were born
and are forbidden to graze sheep or tend their trees again.

While the boys danced, I pictured the flame of a split aorta
in the chest of a man who has lived all his days in the camps
and will die in one now. Afternoon flowed
through rows of tents like mist coming off black jade

as each became the other’s mirror. They were twin lights
in a sconce, tiger cubs perfecting life skills – pounce timing,
split speed for the roda – each pouring all he was
into the little space between self’s flying heel and other’s face.