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This report is taken from PN Review 98, Volume 20 Number 6, July - August 1994.

The Eliot Prize Fenella Copplestone

In January, Ciaran Carson, a poet from Belfast, won the first T.S. Eliot Prize, set up by the Poetry Book Society. When Yeats died in January 1939, Auden wrote: 'Mad Ireland hurt you into poetry/Now Ireland has her madness and her weather still/For poetry makes nothing happen.' Fifty-five years later, mad Ireland had done the business again, and Mr Carson took back to Belfast a cheque for £5000 as his reward for writing the best collection of new poetry - twenty-seven poems in English and one in Irish - of 1993. Valerie Eliot, golden with benevolence, looked on, like the goddess Juno, as the Ulsterman, at the moment of glory, elected to, read the poem in Irish.

For the audience crammed into the Chelsea Arts Club dining-room, it was a moment fraught with the glorious sort of absurdity that poetry followers can bring to the task of communication. First, the choice of the Chelsea venue was absolutely right, not only for its Eliot and PBS associations but also dimensionally. It was too small, the wrong shape, and the wrong height - the minute I saw how low the ceiling was, I knew Les Murray could not have won, and was not, as one poet suspected, being hidden in an upper room, until the winner was announced. Next, it made the task of famous-poet-spotting impossibly difficult, for the members and the staff look like poets too. This led naturally to scenes at the bar, when nervous poets, suspicious ...


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