Five books have been shortlisted for this year’s Irish Times Poetry Now Award, for the best book of the year by an Irish poet. Previous winners include Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley, Sinéad Morrissey, and Theo Dorgan, whose collection Nine Bright Shiners (Dedalus Press) won in 2015. This year’s winner will be announced at the Mountains to Sea Book Festival in March. The 2016 shortlist includes:
- Semibreve by John F Deane
- Blaris Moor by Medbh McGuckian
- The Boys of Bluehill by Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin
- Geis by Caitríona O’Reilly
- … and my own book, Clasp.
I know it may sound a bit trite, but it really is an honour to be included among these writers, all of whom were publishing wonderful collections of poetry years before I ever lifted a pen to write my first poem. There’s a link to each of the books above, so you can order them, read them and pick your own favourite. I’ve enjoyed making my way through each of the books on the shortlist – they are all very different, all very strong, and any one of them would be a worthy winner. I was only disappointed that Dermot Healy’s fifth and final collection of poems The Travels of Sorrow wasn’t on this shortlist. It was one of my favourite collections of 2015, a testament to Healy’s exceptional poetic gifts, and a last gift to readers of his poetry from Dermot and The Gallery Press. Highly recommended.
I’ve been mulling this over a lot since the shortlist was announced. Literary awards are a strange idea, requiring us to ignore the subjectivity that is at the core of reading literature, in favour of choosing a single, ‘best’ volume. It is odd. Imagine choosing a single album as a definitive ‘best’ of 2015: Bjork, Bob Dylan, Drake, Joanna Newsom, The Kilfenora Céilí Band, Sufjan Stevens, Florence + The Machine, Kendrick Lamar, Adele, Daniel O’ Donnell… So much of a process like this is (necessarily) down to personal taste. Choosing a single volume of poetry must be similarly challenging. I don’t envy the judges their task!
Buíochas ó chroí le Dedalus Press, the superb team of Pat Boran and Raffaela Tranchino who took a chance on me when I sent them this manuscript. They nourished my work, guided me through the editing process, and created this beautiful book from my poems. They have both been so open, generous and supportive of my work. I’m deeply grateful to them and proud to be the representative for the Dedalus Press on this shortlist.
Regardless of who is selected as winner of this year’s Irish Times Poetry Now Award, it has been a good year for new poetry in Ireland. As a reader, I enjoyed many, many new books and pamphlets from Irish writers in 2015, and 2016 looks set to be another bumper year. I’m particularly looking forward to reading new work by Rita Ann Higgins, Thomas Mc Carthy, Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh, Alice Lyons, Mary O’ Malley, Adam Crothers, Katie Donovan, to selected volumes by Vona Groarke and Martina Evans, to an anthology of recent poetry from Northern Ireland compiled by Stephen Connolly and Sinéad Morrissey, and to Leabhar na hAthghabhála, a dual-language anthology compiled by Louis de Paor. I’m sure 2016 will bring many, many more volumes by Irish poets to my table. It’s a good time to be a bookworm!