Three Poems, Hannah Sullivan’s debut collection, which won the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize, reinvents the long poem for a digital age. “You, Very Young in New York” paints the portrait of a great American city, paying close attention to grand designs as well as local details, and coalescing in a wry and tender study of romantic possibility, disappointment, and the obduracy of innocence. “Repeat Until Time” shifts the scene to California and combines a poetic essay on the nature of repetition with an enquiry into pattern-making of a personal as well as a philosophical kind. “The Sandpit After Rain” explores the birth of a child and death of a father with exacting clarity.
Praise for Three Poems
“The influence of writers like T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden abounds in Sullivan’s long stanzas and page-width lyrics, which are littered with pitch perfect images, succinct turns of phrase, and exquisitely captured sentiments. Sullivan elevates otherwise mundane daily interactions through artful specificity and repetition of sounds. At times playful and humorous, Sullivan skillfully shifts gears to poignant and profound … An antithesis to abbreviated Twitter poetry, Sullivan’s lyrics are nonetheless accessible and exceptionally rewarding.”
―Diego Báez, Booklist (Starred Review)
“A magnificent debut … Assured, cool, and anthropological in its focus on a life lived via distinct stages and in discreet contexts. The elasticity of her poetic gift―the sheer range of what she can make language do and say―coupled with formal mastery, ensures we’ll be reading this collection for years to come.”
―Citation for the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize
Hannah Sullivan lives in London and teaches English at Oxford. She read Classics at Cambridge, and then lived in the United States for a decade. Three Poems is her debut collection. It was awarded the 2018 T. S. Eliot Prize and the John Pollard Foundation International Poetry Prize.
Hannah Sullivan Recommends: Collected Poems, by Philip Larkin
Philip Larkin was the first poet I read whose world seemed to be as mundane as my own. He wrote about suburban parks, motorway service station cafés, long train journeys, and being back at home with his mother listening to records. Often, he seemed to be at one remove from the action, taking off his cycle clips in a church with “awkward reverence” or listening to a concert on the radio and imagining his girlfriend’s hands “tiny in all that air, applauding.” I bought his lemon chiffon Collected Poems (reassuringly short) in my first year at Cambridge, and I read it lying on my bed in the gloomy 60z ziggurat where the college housed its freshers. I liked his how sourly candid he was about his disappointments, and I sympathized with the fear that life might turn out to be a series of non-events. I also liked the mismatch between the inert, unpromising landscape of the poems and their instant memorability and verbal brio.
He’s a poet to reread in dispiriting times. Born a few months before the publication of The Waste Land, he failed his military medical exams in 1940 and went up to Oxford to read English instead of fighting in the war. And later, as he quipped, he missed out on the sixties too: “Sexual intercourse began / In nineteen sixty-three/ (Which was rather late for me).” An epigrammatic deftness means the anger of these poems is worn lightly, but they are angry poems, all the same – and political ones too. The message is often scarily negative: your parents fuck you up, England’s landscape is being bricked over and destroyed, books are “a load of crap,” and “the sure extinction that we travel to” is nearer every day. At other times, especially at the ends of poems, disappointment and self-frustration are chastened into something so compact and lyrical the mood can’t help, unselfishly, lifting. It may be true that for us being young “can’t come again,” but youth is, all the same, “for others undiminished somewhere.” And even at the end of “Aubade,” as depressing a poem as any ever written, there is still work to do:
The sky is white as clay, with no sun.
Work has to be done.
Postmen like doctors go from house to house.