Robyn muses upon the Costas

January 27, 2010

So four poetry collections have won the Costa – formerly the Whitbread – Book of the Year and oddly, except for Heaney’s Beowulf, they’ve all been written by husbands about their late wives: Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, Ted Hughes’s Birthday Letters, and now Christopher Reid’s A Scattering. I think it’s because the narrative of human relationships in these books is one that novel-readers are comfortable with; the subject is immediate, heart-rending, intimate. The awards are for ‘the most enjoyable books’; Josephine Hart, Chair of the judges, said that Reid’s collection is ‘a devastating piece of work and all of us on the jury felt it was a book we would wish everybody to read’.  In these books, the poets make of distressing subject matter, the most personal of experiences, something that wakes recognition and a kind of comfort in a wide range of readers. We’re not taken out of ourselves, but more deeply into ourselves, to a place of chaos and dread (and inadvertent humour, sometimes) that becomes, in the poet’s words, a place where these feelings are articulated and ordered. Elegies remains one of the most borrowed books in the library. Perhaps A Scattering will contain a poem that you’ll want to keep close and carry.

~ Robyn

3 Responses to “Robyn muses upon the Costas”

  1. Carly Says:

    Oh? What about Heaney’s “The Spirit Level” of 96, and then Hughes’ “Tales From Ovid” of 97?

    Even so, A Scattering is a beautiful book and so deserving of the win. I cried so hard, but with the biggest smile. So beautiful. C


  2. Actually, it’s six books: The Spirit Level and Tales from Ovid also won the overall prize. But your main point stands. I’d noticed that cluster of winning poetry on late wives too.

  3. spl5 Says:

    Thanks, guys! We stand corrected… So do the Guardian! in this fabulous interview with Christopher Reid: http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2010/jan/29/christopher-reid-poet-costa-winner


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