Thursday, December 04, 2008

Lessons in Poetry

Its worth watching this week's Culture Show, on iPlayer or the net to see the piece on Mick Imlah who's 2nd collection, "The Lost Leader" won the Forward Prize and is being gerrymandered into winning the T.S. Eliot. Observers of poetry prizes know that with the odd exception of a "Birthday Letters", there's hardly any consensus between the awards, so it was interesting to see a full piece on one of the contenders, with reading from figures as estimable as Andrew Motion and James Fenton reading Imlah's poems. I was alerted to an article by a bookseller friend who said he'd been inundated with requests for the book after the piece went out. I've nothing for or against Imlah's poetry; I've not read them; and there's obviously a human interest story there - in that he was recently diagnosed with Motor Neurone disease - but I'm interested that a prize where the judging is led by Motion (a Faber author) has two Faber authors (Motion and Fenton) on the Culture Show giving such a powerful plug for another Faber author (Imlah) for that same major prize. Because, however worthy a winner the book is, this is, of course, how its done in poetry. I wonder if the other contender publishers on the list have been badgering the BBC for airtime? Perhaps anything that draws a new name into the public sphere is a good thing, though with the major poetry houses having so little to do with any newer, more vibrant poets out there (as the success of Salt, Seren and others has testified over the last couple of years), the poetry establishment remains as rigid in its ways as ever.

I guess, I'm interested in this, more - in a media studies sense - of how work gets out there, than any other way. It may well be that the other Eliot judges, Lavinia Greenlaw and Tobias Hill amongst them, have other things to say about the winning collection; it may well be that The Lost Leader is a very good book.

Poets, in particular, seem to relish scarcity, so a quick search of the web shows that Imlah is himself a bit of a "lost leader", his 2nd book rumoured but never delivered till now. I loved this page from the LRB, where it announces that "Mick Imlah's The Lost Leader will be published in 2002." Thinking of him not as a poet cum literary editor with friends in high places, and more as the Axl Rose of the Scottish literary scene, appeals to me. And it goes without saying, one wishes him well fighting his disease.

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