Experience and precocity on the Poetry Now shortlist
Contemporary Irish poetry is doing well, as the breadth of work up for the Irish Times Poetry Now award demonstrates
The five poets shortlisted for The Irish Times Poetry Now award are, clockwise from top left, Nick Laird, Conor O’Callaghan, Tara Bergin, Billy Ramsell and Sinéad Morrissey
There is a poem of sorts on the flyleaf of Nick Laird’s new poetry collection, Go Giants. “Poetry,” he writes, “they’re pretty sure you’re not worth knowing, fit for nothing, broken; that any mystery in language perfected by your music’s just a mockery, a joke.”
For the non-believer, the uninitiated, poetry is “a pimped-out, souped-up pussy-magnet”, “as outmoded as the nose flute”. For Laird, however, it is “a juncture of the two kinds of real . . . an ambiguous exactitude . . . the flawed compensation for our just having the one go”.
This untitled almost-verse is Laird’s manifesto and it is an apt introduction to a collection that is contemporary in form and mythic in reach; a collection that sees grandeur in everyday gestures; one that worships the world as it is.
Laird is one of the five poets shortlisted for this year’s Irish Times Poetry Now prize, organised in association with Dún Laoghaire-Rathdown County Council. However, in the diverse collections being celebrated this year, each poet makes his or her own case for contemporary poetry; that “having the one go” is more than worthwhile. From the intimate domesticity of Tara Bergin’s This Is Yarrow to the more publicly engaged dialogue of Conor O’Callaghan’s The Sun King, there is a richness of beauty and experiment that speaks well of the state of contemporary Irish poetry.
There were 28 collections by Irish poets up for consideration for this year’s prize, an open competition that invites publishers to submit new publications. This makes for a thoroughly democratic and inclusive long list. This year, for example, poets as prolific as Paul Muldoon were being considered alongside newcomers.
The shortlist includes a debut collection (Bergin’s) and one by a previous award-winner, Sinéad Morrissey. Her Parallax won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry in 2013. From the sage position of poetic fluency to the raw freshness of a new voice, this breadth of experience and precocity was something the judges found to be worth celebrating. The winner will be announced during the Mountains to Sea DLR Book Festival on September 13th.
The three-piece judging panel for 2013 comprised two poets, Katie Donovan and Nessa O’Mahony, and Chris Morash, the Seamus Heaney professor of Irish writing at Trinity College Dublin. Donovan is a veteran judge of poetry competitions as well as a poet. She says judging a collection, rather than individual poems, can be a challenge. “A poem is itself a universe,” she says, but a collection of poems is not just “a series of well-achieved poems”. It must read “as a single entity, so that one wants to keep reading, for more surprises, more connections, more high jumps”.