Poets drop out of T.S. Eliot Prize competition over politics

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Two poets who were shortlisted for the T.S. Eliot Prize dropped out of contention last week, voicing concerns over its sponsor. Aurum Funds, an international financial firm, recently signed on for a three-year sponsorship of the prize; the company’s involvement was announced alongside the announcement of the shortlist, which winnowed 100 poets in consideration down to just 10.

Alice Oswald, who won the T. S. Eliot prize with her debut collection in 2002, raised the issue. ‘I’m uncomfortable about the fact that Aurum Funds, an investment company which exclusively manages funds of hedge funds, is sponsoring the administration of the Eliot Prize; I think poetry should be questioning not endorsing such institutions and for that reason I’m withdrawing from the Eliot shortlist,’ she said in a statement.

John Kinsella followed her lead, leaving only eight poets in contention for the prestigious British poetry prize. Its winner will be awarded more than $23,000.

The Poetry Book Society has long awarded the prize, but ran into trouble in April of this year when the British Arts Council announced it would cease funding it. More than 100 poets protested the move; Aurum Funds later emerged as a short-term funder of the prize.


Although the Poetry Book Society did not officially comment on the poets’ withdrawals, board member Desmond Clarke told the Guardian that ‘there is a tradition of financial institutions sponsoring literary prizes such as the Man Booker prize’, adding that ‘Aurum are respected investment managers whose clients include public sector pension funds and Oxford University.’

And T.S. Eliot did not have such concerns about the financial industry; he worked for Lloyd’s Bank before moving into publishing.


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-- Carolyn Kellogg