'The intimacy of the poetry world': TS Eliot judge Fiona Sampson on the selection process

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One of the TS Eliot Prize judges, Fiona Sampson, has written about “the intimacy of the poetry world” and the process of selecting a winner, in an article for the Guardian.

In a piece that could be seen as a reply to a blog in the Times Literary Supplement earlier this week, Sampson, editor of Poem magazine, and professor of poetry at Roehampton University, said: “The intimacy of the poetry world can make judging feel oddly embarrassing. You always have colleagues who don’t win alongside the one who does: the only way to manage this is, in my experience, to vote for what you truly believe is the best book.”

The winner of this year’s £20,000 TS Eliot Prize, David Harsent, is professor of creative writing, and a colleague of Sampson’s, at Roehampton University. In the TLS blog, titled “Sui Generous”, Michael Caines asked: “Isn’t this the sort of thing a journalist, even an arts journalist, ought to find curious? – that a judge of a poetry competition could read over 100 books and find that the best of them turns out to be the work of a colleague of hers.”

Sampson, who is also the former editor of Poetry Review, says in her article in Saturday’s Review section of the Guardian: “I found all but one of our selections [for the TS Eliot Prize shortlist] were among the books I’d reviewed over the last year: several were by poets whom I have repeatedly published, reviewed and even voted for over the years. I know my fellow judges, Sean Borodale, and Helen Dunmore, felt the same. As in every year, we had each inevitably taught or been co-published with several of the shortlistees.”

She goes on to say: “We were unanimous in our choice of David Harsent’s Fire Songs … This was Harsent’s fifth Eliot shortlisting and the prize was arguably overdue. But it does seem particularly apt that he should win with a book so engaged with the contemporary world from a shortlist that also included soldier-novelist Kevin Powers, and Ruth Padel writing about the Middle East. It appears the old journalistic challenge about contemporary poetry and its relevance to today’s world is being seriously, and triumphantly, answered.”   



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Stephen Gospage

Sun 8th Aug 2021 17:58

To be fair to all concerned, I have read some of David Harsent's work and have always enjoyed his poetry.

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M.C. Newberry

Sat 7th Aug 2021 14:23

I still wait for an answer to my question posed six years ago.
Today's "poetry world" seems to consist of a self-satisfied
set of literary luvvies busily engaged in extending and endorsing each other's stuff, far removed from the world at large. I would
like to be proved wrong but where is that promise of immortality?

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Graham Sherwood

Tue 20th Jan 2015 19:18

These poetry competitions both amuse and bemuse me somewhat. It appears that they all seem to be won by poetry professionals (or as close to being a poetry professional as can be via teaching etc).
There doesn't appear to be any sign of anything/something eminently readable coming out of a cramped bedroom/garret that is likely to stand a remote chance of recognition.

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M.C. Newberry

Sun 18th Jan 2015 23:57

Was any really great British poet actually ever
employed in academia? I am scratching my head
in an effort to remember - so far without

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