The mid-table Stokes and West Broms of British poetry. If you’re a ‘trophy cabinet half-full’ sort of person, they’ll be challenging for European glory next year; if, on the other hand, you believe the trophy cabinet’s half-empty, they could be plummeting towards the relegation places.
11. Philip Gross (175 points)
Last season’s ranking: =22
Since 2007: Won the T. S. Eliot Prize with The Water Table (2009). His poems have appeared in Poetry Review and Poetry London, and both magazines have reviewed his work on more than one occasion.
Philip Gross was (reluctantly, I imagine) catapulted into the mainstream when The Water Table won the T.S. Eliot Prize ahead of ‘bigger names’ such as Christopher Reid and Alice Oswald. Gross is a Professor of Creative Writing at the University of Glamorgan, and writes novels for younger readers in addition to his poetry. His record at awards ceremonies brings to mind the so-exhausted-I’m-ashamed-to-use-it-here cliché about buses: after winning the National Poetry Competition in 1982, he waited nearly two decades before winning the T. S. Eliot Prize. Then, just a year later, he won the Wales Book of the Year award for I Spy Pinehole Eye, a collaboration with photographer Simon Denison. His latest collection, Deep Field, focuses on his recently-deceased father (a wartime refugee from Estonia) and explores a growing fascination with ‘the edge of language’, where the lines between words and silence tend to blur.
Go and read: Severn Song
=12. David Harsent (160 points)
Last season’s ranking: 4
Since 2007: Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection, the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and the Costa Prize for Poetry. His work has been published in Poetry Review, and reviewed in Poetry London.
David Harsent is so ‘dark’ that his latest collection is simply called Night. The book is heavy with meditations on mortality (‘the way death sidles in with a nod and a cough’, in a poem called ‘Rota Fortunae’), but also with dreams and hallucinatory visions. Night was the follow-up to Legion, a Forward Prize winner in 2005, and both tread similarly uncompromising territory. Harsent’s poetry often seems stripped of anything elaborate or unnecessary, spiralling down the page in a series of blank verse lines, but there’s still plenty of room for vivid similes (how about ‘A quarter-moon, livid like a burn-scar’?) and narrative drive. Harsent also writes libretti, as well as crime fiction under two rather nondescript pseudonyms (Jack Curtis and David Lawrence).
Go and read: Night
=12. Sinéad Morrissey (160 points)
Last season’s ranking: 8
Since 2007: ‘Through the Square Window’ won the National Poetry Competition in 2007. Morrissey has also been shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection and the T. S. Eliot Prize. Her work has appeared in Poetry London and PN Review, with one review from Poetry London.
One of those outsider/insider poets who stays in contention for the prizes without ever being accused of belonging to the ‘mafia’, Sinéad Morrissey is a leading figure in a new generation of Irish poets. She won the National Poetry Competition with ‘Through the Square Window’, a poem in which ‘the dead have arrived/ to wash the windows of my house’, and the collection of the same name was shortlisted for both the Forward Prize and the T. S. Eliot Prize. Morrissey’s influences are hard to pin down: she has worked in New Zealand and Japan, and her poetry ranges through a wide variety of forms, from blank verse to epic ballads. There’s a slightly academic sense of playfulness behind Morrissey’s lines, and perhaps it’s no surprise to learn that she is a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Queen’s University, Belfast.
Go and read: A Performance
=14. George Szirtes (135 points)
Last season’s ranking: =27
Since 2007: Shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Single Poem and the T. S. Eliot Prize. His poems have been published in Poetry Review and Poetry London, and his work has been reviewed twice in Poetry Review.
As a lecturer at UEA and an engaging blogger, George Szirtes has the potential to be an influential figure for an up-and-coming generation of poets (who can’t be called the New Generation or the Next Generation, because both names are already taken). Szirtes will be guest-editing this summer’s issue of Poetry Review, and there’ll be plenty of admirers wishing he could take the job on a more permanent basis. He arrived in England after the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and has been involved with both British and Hungarian writing (translating László Krasznahorkai’s prose, along with several anthologies of contemporary Hungarian poetry). Szirtes is another poet best described as versatile, capable of writing both a sonnet on the demise of Woolworths and a lengthy ‘meditation on the love and hatred of knowledge.’
Go and read: Preston North End (since we’re loosely on the subject of football)
=14. Ciarán Carson (135 points)
Last season’s ranking: =29
Since 2007: Shortlisted for the Costa Prize for Poetry and the T. S. Eliot Prize. Hasn’t published in any of the ‘big three’ magazines, but has been reviewed in all three.
I first encountered Ciarán Carson as the (at times shockingly vernacular) translator of Dante’s Inferno, only later coming to know him as one of the best contemporary Irish poets. His breakthrough collection was The Irish for No, published in 1987. In long, CK Williams-esque lines, Carson wrote unflinchingly about ‘the Troubles’ and his native Belfast. His fascination with language sometimes brings Joyce to mind, although Paul Muldoon’s work would perhaps be a more obvious point of reference. Carson is the director of the Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry at Queen’s University — any readers who’ve been paying attention might spot a link to Sinéad Morrissey.
Go and read: Belfast Confetti