I’m not a great fan of competitions, to be honest. Although everyone says they know that the results are necessarily subjective, people do still take them as gospel. X won such-and-such a prize and so it must be the best and so that’s the one I’ll buy.” A simplification, of course, but still…
And yet the annual T S Eliot Prize for the year’s best poetry collection is something special. It has become poetry’s largest event of the year, a time when 1000 people, all poetry lovers, some writers, all readers, come together in The Royal Festival Hall, and listen to readings by some of the most interesting and talented poets around. Sunday night was the event — not a prize giving, just a reading. The winner will be announced on Monday evening at a separate event. But on Sunday evening the (long) shortlist of ten poets read for eight minutes each, giving us all a taste of why they had been chosen  as representing the best the year had to offer.
It was a varied group:
Daljit Nagra  wrote a retelling of the Ramayana, which he presented with humour and excitement as a staged-reading with 5 voices.
Moniza Alvi read from At The Time of Partition, which gives a view of  history through poetic eyes.
Maurice Riordan read in his wonderfully mellifluous voice poems about time and personal history from his collection, The Water Stealer.
Anne Carson could not come over from across the pond for the event, alas. But Ruth Padel read from Red Doc>, a mix of poetry, narrative and drama.
Michael Symmons Roberts’ Drysalter is a collection of 150 poems of 15 lines each, each one building on the next to reach a justifiably acclaimed crescendo.
Dannie Abse filled the hall with laughter and applause as he read from Speak, Old Parrot, a collection born from 90 years of loss and love.
Helen Mort was a another poet to tackle history head-on as she reflected on the confrontations in the North of the 1980’s in Division Street.
George Szirtes read from his poetic musings on machines, the body and ultimately obsolescence and mortality in Bad Machine.
Sinead Morrissey stunned us all with her fantastic reading of  excerpts from Parallax where personal experience and, once again, history collide.
Robin Robertson read with a bravura voice from his collection, Hill of Doors, poems full of the deepest emotions offered up within beautiful language.
Quite the line up. And for me, one of the great joys of the evenings was to see and hear how well each poet presented his/her work. This is a pet peeve of mine. Poets too often neglect that part of their craft, which only means that their hard fought-for words are lost behind whispers and mumbles. But each of these presentations was a performance, which is what poetry is and deserves to be.
So regardless of who actually receives the award and its hefty cheque tonight, poetry itself is the big winner, I think. Sunday night it showed itself to be full of beauty, humour and innovation, and one of Britain’s best concert halls was full of people eager to experience it.
I wrote this on Monday morning, but decided to wait to publish it until Tuesday morning, after the winner was announced, who is  Sinead Morrissey. Well, you were curious, weren’t you?