The TS Eliot prize and twenty-five years of Shoestring Press

One of the great showcases for poetry, the TS Eliot Prize is over for another year.  I’m lucky enough to have met and spent a little time with three of the nominated poets in the last couple of years, and I found all of them to be witty, generous, brilliant and fun.

I have never met Danie Abse, shortlisted for his ‘Speak, Old Parrot,’ but  I have loved his work for some time, not least because Abse, a Doctor by profession and now 91 years of age, has written about medical matters from an insider’s point of view in his ‘Pathology of Colours’.  Reading this poem and others by Abse I realised I could write about my own experiences as a nurse.
You can hear the funny and very moving Danie Abse and all the other brilliant poets reading at the awards ceremony by clicking here.  


Away from the bright lights poetry continues to thrive in the small presses and magazines. My review of Matt Merrit’s ‘The Elephant Tests’ (Nine Arches) is on the impressive new online magazine Hinterland along with some excellent poems.

Elsewhere you can find a review of Helen Mort’s TS Eliot Prize nominated ‘Division Street’ as well as a well-balanced and written review of my book ‘The Sun Bathers’ on Antiphon.

In other news Nick Laird’s new collection ‘Go Giants’ (Faber) arrived today and looks to be as good as I had hoped. I’m catching up on Laird’s work, and his superb poem ‘Grace and the Chilcot Inquiry’ inhabited my head for most of the day.

Finally, I was thinking about my wonderful publisher today. I can write this safe in the knowledge that the notoriously modest John Lucas will not be reading it as he stays away from electronic media as much as possible.

John Lucas set up Shoestring Press  twenty five years ago this year. Small press publishing is a precarious business and John has continued to quietly produce a wide range of poets in beautiful editions, including the brilliant John Hartley Williams. His selection of writers is varied and includes translated work, and John will often concentrate on publishing poets who he feels have been overlooked or undervalued. One example might be the wonderful Matt Simpson. Another is Brian Jones, not the ill-fated Rolling Stone, but a poet published at various times by Chatto and Windus and Carcanet.  Much of Jones work had been out of print until Shoestring’s recent New and Selected.

John also publishes a lot of first collections, including, I’m extremely happy to say, mine. As everyone reading this will no-doubt know, small press poetry books are highly unlikely to be stocked in high street bookshops or to be nominated for the large poetry prizes (see Fiona Moore’ s interesting post on this here.)  Forgive me. I am about to relate an anecdote which involves quoting a complementary introduction given by John Lucas and thereby blowing my own trumpet a little. But I do so for a purpose.

Two months ago, on the night of a joint launch reading with Rory Waterman, John suggested that my poems, rather than having a highlight or two, were the highlight,  rather like Duke Ellington’s music.  I should mention that John is a cornet player with his own jazz band and I imagine he thinks rather highly of Ellington.  I felt as if I’d won the biggest prize in poetry. If my work never receives further recognition or praise I’ll be happy with that.

Here’s to John Lucas and Shoestring Press and to all its supporters and readers. And to Shoestring poets both alive and living on through their words.  Cheers.


  1. Thank you for the youtube link, from which I’m able to access all Poetry Book Society recordings of the shortlisters’ readings. Timely, as post-op cocktail of drugs currently impeding brain function (so my Google search unfruitful).
    Thanks, also, for your Facebook link to Shoestring Press site (I do agree with Kathy’s comment, though).


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s