Cambridge’s contemporary poetry scene thrives

Imogen Cassels 27 January 2015

Barely a fortnight into 2015, two of the most important poetry prizes have been awarded. At the heart of this national poetry scene is Cambridge, where literature is, as always, thriving.

January awarded the Costa Poetry Prize to English teacher Jonathan Edwards. On the judging panel was Cambridge alumna Charlotte Runcie, who authored the sublime collection seventeen horse skeletons, Edwards’s debut collection, My Family and Other Superheroes, has been described as documenting “a post-industrial Valleys upbringing re-imagined through the prism of pop-culture and surrealism”. Also in competition was ‘Next Generation Poet’ Kei Miller with The Cartographer Tries to Map a Way to Zion, who gave a reading of his work at Heffers last term.

The T. S. Eliot prize is perhaps the most prestigious award for poetry written in the English language. After stacking up numerous nominations for other poetry prizes, David Harsent was finally triumphant with his eleventh collection Fire Songs. Mediaeval witch burnings, rats, stars, and blood ooze from Harsent’s pages. The poems centre on Anne Askew, the only woman known to have been both tortured in the Tower of London and burnt at the stake. Her presence imbues the collection with a dark energy which resonates long after reading. Judge Helen Dunmore described Harsent’s writing as being “for dark and dangerous days”, full of “technical brilliance and prophetic power”.

We are blessed to have a vast array of poetry events right here in Cambridge. Saturday 17 January saw a phenomenal reading at the English Faculty. Featured was Peter Hughes, whose reading from his interpretive translations of Petrarch’s sonnets (one of which begins “if love or death don’t fuck it up”) proved that contemporary poetry is as keen to reach into the past as the future.

Magdalene Literature Festival is running ‘The Sound of English Poetry: A Symposium’ on 31 January. It promises to be a thought provoking event on the relation between sound and poetic effects. Host of BBC Radio 4’s Poetry Please Roger McGough is amongst the speakers.

Paul Muldoon, who is the emeritus Professor of Poetry at Oxford and a recipient of the T. S. Eliot and Pulitzer prizes, will be speaking throughout January about ‘The Second Coming’ author W. B. Yeats and the afterlife.

In addition to these talks at the Mill Lane Lecture Rooms, Muldoon will be delivering a poetry reading in Trinity College, Cambridge, on 21 January. Described by The Times Literary Supplement as “the most significant English-language poet born since the Second World War”, the chance to hear Muldoon speak is too good to be missed.

These rich and diverse events, alongside the fortnightly Sunday speakeasies at the ADC and college based poetry societies, offer outlets for the poetry enthusiast of every inclination. Cambridge really is the place of poetry in the here and now.