Listening in on the Oscars for Poetry, T S Eliot Prize

Without even the pressure to dress up, you can listen with the leaders in UK poetry to the annual prestigious award ceremony for the T S Eliot prize – audio recordings now available here.

Thanks to the time machinery of your internet device, you are present to hear a master class in reading and presenting your own poetry.  Each poet has 8 minutes to read their work.  This is poets under pressure, reading to a roomful of experts in writing and performing poetry – with a leading prize of £25,000 at stake.

  1.  Ian MacMillan introduces the shortlisted readings.  (2 minutes 29 secs)
  2. (Second track, although this clearly happened before Ian spoke) Bill Herbert, Chair of this year’s judges, reads one of T S Eliot’s own poems – this year a particularly political one “The Difficulties of a Statesman” (5.16)
  3. Leontia Flynn (originally from Northern Ireland)
  4. James Sheard (good at explaining the personal starting point for the poems and engaging with the audience)
  5. Tara Bergin (originally from Ireland) reads from her collection based on the death of Eleanor Marx, daughter of Karl Marx, who committed suicide after her lover married someone else
  6. Robert Minhinnick (Wales) reads from “Diary of the Last Man”.  He edits “Poetry Wales” and writes with passion about the environment
  7. Roddy Lumsden reads from “So glad to be me”
  8. Jacqueline Saphra “All my mad mothers” – reads short poems with humour and insight about family and art and motherhood (her grownup kids in the audience)
  9. Ocean Vuong (Vietnam/America) reads with intenseness and drama of the fall of Saigon (his mother is Vietnamese/American) and a poem speaking to himself
  10. Douglas Dunn (Scotland) reads from his collection “The sound of a fly”
  11. Caroline Bird reads from her collection “In these days of Prohibition” – which Ian MacMillan describes as being about the surreallness of real life.  7 minutes into the reading, she reads a fantastic poem – which I’ve heard her perform, live – and it’s so vivid and funny, it’s like you join her in the scene
  12. Michael Symmons Roberts reads from his collection “Mancunia” – things to do with Manchester (an English city) are described as “Mancunian”


All in one place, we hear ten poets, current, contemporary, performing – selected by the poetry community as important at this moment in time.  We hear different accents and varieties of ages and styles of poetry.  It will forever be on these poets’ c.v.s that they were shortlisted for the T S Eliot prize.  One will win.  (The result is out now, but I’ll let you find it out for yourself.  Can you guess who it is?)

The Poets talk about their work

If some of these readings made you interested to hear more of these poets and how they work at poetry, the T S Eliot Society has made brief video interviews with them on that theme.  (Thank you, T S Eliot Society!)

Leontia Flynn talks about her work

James Sheard

Tara Bergin

Robert Minhinnick

Roddy Lumsden

Jacqueline Saphra

Ocean Vuong

Douglas Dunn

Caroline Bird

Michael Symmons Roberts



What freedom is… Nina Simone

This is one of the best films available on Netflix. I’m reposting, as a friend of mine saw it recently and was just as profoundly shaken and stirred by it. Totally absorbing.

Comma And

Last night I more or less idly began watching a documentary on Netflix about Nina Simone – and was right from the start transfixed by her words: “I’ll tell you what freedom is to me – no fear!”

From those opening comments in “What happened to you Miss Simone?” I was glued to the screen.  One of the words most used by the singer herself is “compelling” – and it fits her appearances.

Musically, she is electrifying: confident, powerful, emotional, unpredictable, distinctive.  Like all great artists in any genre (and this is something someone needs to tell warbly teenage wannabe popstars)

  • she inherited powerful art skills through her family (literature words and performance as her mother was a Bible preacher)
  • has invested depth into her art by years of studying and acquiring classical technique (classical piano study),
  • responding to her times and national culture (Civil Rights),
  • bringing in her most personal…

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Simon Armitage, videopoem, video, poem, travel, poetry

Making poetry from the ordinary: Travel

Proof positive that when you’re writing a powerful poem, its shape can be something as simple as a twist on an everyday voice/situation, or the banal pauses between events. And yes, it can include humour.  And it can be great in a video.

(Video by Faber & Faber to illustrate poem “Thank you for Waiting)

Creative Takeaway Prompt

Do you have a very ordinary, boring situation/conversation/speech which you hear everyday?  Take that form and write it so that you make it talk about something else, something you feel passionately about.  Increase the strength of your words at the end to the extreme.  (As Simon Armitage does, in this video).

Advanced – time how long you think it will take you to read your poem, allowing an extra 5-10 seconds. Have a friend video you on a mobile phone in that banal situation, then do a voiceover of yourself reading the poem.  Finally, have the courage to put it on Youtube and publicise it in social media (this could be as simple as your personal Facebook page or Twitter.)

More video work – look at your written poems so far – is there one whose atmosphere could be videoed in a setting which reinforces the message?

Dangerous Music

Man plays piano and lives to tell the tale…. this is simply the weirdest thing I’ve seen today.

It became a life or death duel between the man and the piano, inadvertently – as the player afterwards explained.

Is it performance art?  It’s certainly an attention grabbing visual image.  The music (more…)

New/old music in Manchester

A new piece of classical music is to premiere in Manchester Cathedral on 8th June as part of Manchester Cameratas’ “The Playoff”.  The piece was written partly to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Bach’s Cello Suites – written in happier times before the recent explosion.  Colin Riley is the composer, and his two soloist cellos (so to speak) went to the same School of Music in Manchester – Guy Johnston and Gabriella Swallow.  Here they are, at rehearsals.

Caution: watching this video is likely to lead to booking tickets for the concert….

Songs from Home

A 2 minute video of Nik, a busker in Bath with Serbian background.

“I love the way that busking as an art-form surprises people and it changes public spaces.  No matter where you’re from, there’s a universal language in song”

This video by Lewis Jelley was made using a mobile phone with fish-eye lens.

The story it tells is compact and rich.  In merely 2 minutes, it has themes of how music carries a culture and story; how music transports us somewhere else; that it is made by music lovers rather than beggars; what it is to be a immigrant.