Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy tells Channel 4 News “every poet must follow their conscience” as the withdrawal of two poets overshadows this year’s TS Eliot Prize for poetry.
“There’s a real feeling of celebration… the brotherhood and sisterhood of poetry,” Carol Ann Duffy told Channel 4 News as eight poets prepare for this year’s TS Eliot Prize.
Britain’s poet laureate, and one of the nominees, spoke ahead of tonight’s ceremony to announce the winner. But this year’s event has been overshadowed by the withdrawal of two of the nominees – Alice Oswald and John Kinsella.
They were unhappy that funding cuts had led the prize’s organisers to broker a sponsorship deal with Aurum Funds, a hedge-fund investment firm.
Oswald said “poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions”, while Kinsella told The Guardian “hedge funds are at the very pointy end of capitalism, if I can put it that way.”
I don’t know that poetry has any duty. For me poetry is the music of being human. Carol Ann Duffy
“Every poet must follow their conscience,” Duffy told Channel 4 News.
“In my case I spent a lot of time last year trying to get support for the Poetry Book Society, which suffered 100 per cent cuts.
“I can only congratulate them in managing to carry on with the administration of this prize. My conscience told me to support the Poetry Book Society.
“I don’t know that poetry has any duty. For me poetry is the music of being human.
“It wouldn’t have been a great thing if all the poets had lined up thinking it was their duty [to withdraw]. It’s very much an individual decision.”
Gillian Clark, national poet for Wales and chair of the judges told Channel 4 News: “The books are astounding. I should have thought that quite a few of the books will live forever, as long as tne earth doesn’t collapse.”
She said prize is about the “truth” and “everything that human beings should be talking about”.
On the two poets who withdrew, she said: “They did it for completely honourable reasons.”
“I know very little about the machinations of the financial world.
“It alerted me to that and I hope it will alert the Arts Council of England to the difficulties that we have been thrown into as a result of having to seek sponsorship elsewhere.
“But I don’t want anyone to think that two people were honourable and eight people were not.
“The eight people that have stayed in the competition for the best of reasons. It’s not like a banker’s bonus – it’s a worthy prize.”
You can see some of the nominees reading their poems and speaking to Channel 4 News in the video below.
The shortlisted poets:
John Burnside for Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape)
Carol Ann Duffy for The Bees (Picador)
Leontia Flynn for Profit and Loss (Jonathan Cape)
David Harsent for Night (Faber)
Esther Morgan for Grace (Bloodaxe)
Daljit Nagra for Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! (Faber)
Sean O'Brien for November (Picador)
Bernard O'Donoghue for Farmers Cross (Faber)