Shortlisted for the 2011 TS Eliot Prize
Poetry Book Society Recommendation
What happens if, when the angel arrives with his message, no one’s at home? In poems of lyric concentration, Grace examines our need for purpose, for the signs that might help us decide what to do with our lives. It’s a desire that makes for restless spirits – like the woman who keeps shifting her furniture around or the invisible subjects of an early photograph, moving too fast to be captured.
Other poems ask what happens when we reconcile ourselves to watching and waiting – whether the angle of the sun in a guest room or the colour of a bruised clementine is really ‘enough to be going on with’. Haunted by a blue sky out of which something (or nothing) might come, these are poems of intensely felt moments. They create a vision both troubled and informed by doubt, where the ghost of a film star may be the closest we can come to grace.
‘Grace, Esther Morgan's third collection, is an extraordinary, radiant book. Its poetry makes quietly insistent demands uppon the reader: "In the stillness, everything becomes itself."... The afterglow of Esther Morgan's luminous work is not certainty, but questions. Can imagination transform, or simply recognise, what is there? Do these poems come by grace of Muse or angel?’ – Alison Brackenbury, Poetry London
‘We speak of "the poet’s voice", a phrase which comes to mind when considering what’s special about Grace: the consistency and perfect pitch of the ‘voice’. Open any page, pick any poem, and the reader hears poetry that sings without use of a single poetic device of sound or form. That’s not easy to get right. It’s a book of rooms, interiors, sensed presences and absences, noted detail, the graceful and the slovenly - white plates on a kitchen table, a slipware bowl, the year-old jar of nails and flies. It’s a quiet book, full of grace, like a painting by Vermeer, and, like the work of Vermeer, each work of art inhabits the same house. This collection doesn’t strike a single false note.’ – Gillian Clarke, T.S. Eliot Prize judge’s comment on Grace
‘The visionary gleam is picked up and amplified by poem after poem in Esther Morgan's superb new collection... Morgan's passion for light is also a yearning for space and air, for an uncluttered and ethereal existence.’ – Jem Poster, Poetry Review
‘Some of these poems are pitch-perfect, combining feeling with sparse language and seeking out exact metaphors to augment their subtle arguments. "This Morning"... is particularly poignant... Along with a handful of the best poems in the book, it confirms Morgan as a talented invoker of the sometimes seismic minutiae of our everyday lives.' – Ben Wilkinson, Guardian
‘Esther Morgan has achieved a spare, resonant poetry which aches for, and often discovers, instances of transcendence and transfiguration. These are moments of grace in an ordinary world... Often Morgan's is a fruitful world where presences can be felt in absences, like sunlight in a dusty guest room, but it's also a world of grave uncertainty... These are quiet poems, yet the perceptions can be breathtaking in their beauty and accuracy... Grace allows for still spaces in our lives, for a sense of the sacred that might visit us even... Grace is full of grace in more than one sense – Esther Morgan's third collection is elegant and profound.’ – Moniza Alvi & Michael Symmons Roberts, PBS Bulletin
Esther Morgan reads nine poems
Esther Morgan's third collection Grace was shortlisted for the 2011 T.S. Eliot Prize. The main themes of her poetry are loss, loneliness and what remains unspoken. She describes her subject-matter as being 'family and ancestry, the domestic space, the secrets of hidden lives'. Reviewing her work in the TLS, Stephen Knight wrote of how 'erasure, absence and isolation are explored in a voice so ingenuous, its language and syntax so plain, that it takes a while to notice quite how disturbing the poetry is.' Neil Astley filmed Esther Morgan reading a selection of her poems at her home in Suffolk in November 2009. Here she reads one poem, 'The Reason', from her first collection Beyond Calling Distance (2001); then two poems, 'Bone China' and 'At the parrot sanctuary', from The Silence Living in Houses (2005); and six poems from the Eliot-shortlisted Grace (2011): 'Grace', 'Among Women', 'I want to go back to The Angel', 'What Happens While We Are Sleeping', 'After Life' and 'Risen'.