T S Eliot Prize Redux: Robin Robertson's 'At Roane Head'

As I'm still feeling a bit preoccupied with all things T S Eliot Prize-related, I thought I might post an entry or two or three on poems or collections from past years which made a particularly strong impression on me. I'm not good on detail, so it's often the case that I remember more of an impression or a feeling from such an event, rather than specific poems or moments. If I do remember a moment vividly, it was something powerful.

I realised that Robin Robertson (who I am not obsessed with!!) has been responsible for a couple of these moments in my personal T S Eliot Prize history. One was at the 2006/2007 readings, when he was nominated for Swithering. I remember being quite taken by the long poem on Actaeon and Diana which he read; the rather bleak Scots accent, and the poem's lines cutting like knives.

Even more impressive was hearing Robertson read 'At Roane Head', at the 2010/2011 readings in the Royal Festival Hall. This poem had already won the 2009 Forward Prize for best single poem, which is a great honour. It also formed part of his T S Eliot Prize-nominated collection The Wrecking Light.

I won't describe the poem, particularly: it is self-explanatory when you read it. It would probably suffice to say that it is mythic, unpleasant, and unforgettable. The imagery, as is often the case with Robertson's poems, is taut and sharp: many cutting, percussive words which interweave into something flowing, like the drag of pebbles on a seashore.

What I remember is the extreme, tense silence in the Royal Festival Hall as he read the final lines unhurriedly, almost flatly. It was a silence so complete, in a hall full of people, that it was slightly frightening.

You can read 'At Roane Head' on this link:

AT ROANE HEAD (Robin Robertson)

And this is a video of Robertson reading the poem: