Heaney nominated for Forward poetry prize

The Nobel prize laureate and grand old man of English verse, Seamus Heaney, is on the shortlist for the best collection section of the Forward poetry awards for his 12th volume of poems, District and Circle.

An unusually eminent figure is disclosed today as a contender for a £10,000 annual British poetry prize. He is a man who has in the past won 90 times that amount in one fell swoop.

The Nobel prize laureate and grand old man of English verse, Seamus Heaney, is on the shortlist for the best collection section of the Forward poetry awards. Though the prize money is low by the Nobel's £900,000 standards, they are the country's richest poetry prizes, eagerly coveted in a field where earnings are scant. Heaney is listed for his 12th volume of poems, District and Circle. He is up against four respected established poets and a formidable newcomer, Kate Bingham, 35, whose Quicksand Beach is only her second published collection.

In recent years it has been rare for artists of Heaney's rank to be associated with poetry competitions, which are generally seen as a chance for writers with less star status. But any suggestion that the Northern Irish poet is acting unfairly was dismissed yesterday by Bingham's publisher, Seren books.

"Of course it's not unfair," said Seren's spokesman, Simon Hicks. "It's like saying Brazil should not enter the World Cup. Well, they did enter - and they didn't win. You can't complain because someone like Heaney publishes a book the year yours is out."

The judges' chairman, the poet John Burnside, said Heaney might not even know of his entry until today. "My understanding is that it's standard for publishers to enter books without telling authors. I think it's fair. The prize isn't swayed by reputation. Big names don't necessarily make the list. If they do, it confers extra prestige on the awards."

Bingham is known for writing about love with a physical vigour and relish for paradox reminiscent of 17th-century metaphysical poets such as John Donne:

We didn't see monogamy / - dumb, satisfied, unsung monogamy / sneak in and slide between us on the bed, / ... disguised as love's / romantic ideal, and mocking our offhand, one / night stand bravado.

Heaney writes of a blackbird:

Hedge-hop, I am absolute / For you, your ready talkback, / Your each stand-offish comeback, / Your picky, nervy goldbeak - / On the grass when I arrive.

Also on the best collection shortlist are Paul Farley, for Tramp in Flames; Vicki Feaver, for The Book of Blood; Robin Robertson, for Swithering; and Penelope Shuttle, for Redgrove's Wife.


John Ezard

The GuardianTramp

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