Iona Singleton wins TS Eliot shadowing prize

Iona Singleton of South Wilts Grammar School is the winner of this year's TS Eliot prize for poetry shadowing scheme. The scheme gives students the chance to read poems by each of the poets shortlisted for the Eliot prize and to enter a writing competition putting the case for their choice of poet. Iona Singleton chose Philip Gross's collection The Water Table.

Iona Singleton, winner of the TS Eliot prize shadowing scheme, with TS Eliot prize winner, Philip Gross. Photograph: Adrian Pope

I love the River Severn. I see it every time I cross the bridge into Wales, half water, half mud, half river, half sea. Philip Gross captures it perfectly in 'The Severn Song', and takes its nebulousness even further. Because you cannot see where water changes to mud, or river to sea, he explores the concept that it can be all these things at the same time, 'not this-then-that, not either-or'. It is brown and blue, flowing and still. We are old and young, father and son, 'we were no age at all'. This beautifully illustrates the power of perception, 'two things can be true'.

Through the most vivid of representations, 'the kind of water that's thicker than blood' Gross captures his audience with the beauty of his written word. The fluidity of the piece naturally represents the water that is at the heart of his poetry, something that can be so still and yet so rough and powerful, 'with waves that did not break or fall'. And yet, the poem is, in part, of course, not about the river at all. It is about something just as indefinable as water : 'self'. Just as the river is 'not this-then-that, not either-or', so too is the self, both particular and otherwise all at the same time. He is old and young, you and I, alluding to the concept that an individual can exhibit multiple characteristics. And just as the river becomes one with the sea, so we are one with the world: both a small part, and the whole thing, all at the same time.

The same theme continues in 'The Moveable Island' that is both there and not, 'most there only when you look away...whichever shore you look from, it seems closer to the other' - perfectly unattainable. The island might be real or imagined. Maybe it represents dreams and ambitions, always just out of reach, 'like a thought into sleep'. In 'Severn Song', Gross focuses largely on the languid river, whereas here he reminds us that the Severn has forty foot tides, and strong bore - 'these grand tides like a lesson in bad governance, all power...' In a wonderful touch, he mocks their lack of a 'fixed purpose', likening them to God dithering. And yet, despite all this, the poem is as much about absence as presence: an island that may be nothing more than an imagining of his ageing binoculars in a constantly shifting river - a river that is at the heart of both poems. For while the poems deal in the fluid nature of self, part of the joy is that they are firmly grounded by the solid physical geographical fact that is the River Severn. These poems truly stood out to me and it is for this reason that I believe the works of Philip Gross should be credited; they are inspiring to read and equally as thought-provoking. I have enjoyed them immensely.

The TS Eliot Prize for Poetry Shadowing Scheme is run jointly by the Poetry Book Society and the English and Media Centre's emagazine.

Betweenland I and X by Philip Gross

Two poems from The Water Table, Philip Gross's TS Eliot prize-winning collection

Betweenland I

A body of water: water's body

that seems to have a mind (and
change it: isn't that what makes

a mind, its changing?) not much
prone to thinking - rather, thoughts
curl through it, salt or fresh, or hang

between states; sometimes gloss
the surface with their oil-illuminations.

Wind-worried to dullness, pulled two ways
(earth and moon like parents not quite
in accord), unquiet body, it can never

quite lay down its silt; always trying
to be something other, to be sky,

to lose itself in absolute reflection.

Betweenland X

Just after sunset, and the tide
high, almost white, dull-
lambent like nothing the sky

holds or could lend it. Each
shore, this and that shore,
black, a particular

blackness pinned in place
by each house- or street-lamp.
Done with. As if land

was night, and us its night-thoughts
and the river was the draining down
of daylight, westwards and out

of the world, so how could you not
(your gaze at least) feel drawn
and want, half want, to follow?


The Water Table by Philip Gross is published by Bloodaxe Books


Created: Friday, January 22, 2010 | School News Page

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