Carol Ann Duffy pitted against Sean O'Brien, Alice Oswald and John Burnside for 'prize most poets want to win'
Described as the "most demanding of all poetry prizes" by chair of judges Gillian Clarke, the 10 nominations for this year's TS Eliot award are a roll-call of poetry's great and good. Duffy, who won the award for her previous collection, Rapture, is shortlisted for The Bees, her first collection since she was named laureate. Woven through with imagery of bees, it is up against Burnside's Black Cat Bone (a look at love, faith, hope and illusion which took this year's Forward prize), O'Brien's elegiac November and Oswald's take on the Iliad, Memorial.
Clarke, the national poet of Wales, called the lineup for the £15,000 prize "a library of the best". She and her fellow poets Stephen Knight and Dennis O'Driscoll also selected the spiritual, politically engaged collection Armour by Australian poet John Kinsella; Esther Morgan's Grace, an examination of our need for purpose; Daljit Nagra's satirical Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!!; and Irish poet Bernard O'Donoghue's meditation on exile and home, Farmer's Cross. The list is rounded out by David Harsent's Night and Leontia Flynn's Profit and Loss.
"To me an exciting book is one that makes me want to be a poet – to stop and write a poem at that very moment. It's a book which is plugging in to the chemistry and excitement about language which we all need before picking up a pen," said Clarke. "All these books [we've chosen] are nourishing, exciting and challenging. Some are more
challenging, others more nourishing, but all are tremendously important to us in their different ways – in quiet ways and in pizzazzy ways."
Won in the past by this year's contenders Oswald, Duffy and O'Brien, as well as by Derek Walcott, Ted Hughes, Les Murray and Seamus Heaney, the TS Eliot has been described as "the prize most poets want to win" by Andrew Motion.
"Eliot is one of the greatest poets of the 20th century and we can't let him down," said Clarke. "We all grieved
for the books we could not include but we do really feel that we have something here that represents a lot about British poetry at the moment."
The winner of the TS Eliot prize will be announced on 16 January 2012.
Black Cat Bone by John Burnside (Cape)
The Bees by Carol Ann Duffy (Picador)
Profit and Loss by Leontia Flynn (Cape)
Night by David Harsent (Faber)
Armour by John Kinsella (Picador)
Grace by Esther Morgan (Bloodaxe)
Tippoo Sultan's Incredible White-Man-Eating Tiger Toy-Machine!!! by Daljit Nagra (Faber)
November by Sean O'Brien (Picador)
Farmer's Cross by Bernard O'Donoghue (Faber)
Memorial by Alice Oswald (Faber)