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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Derek Walcott wins British prize

LONDON, CMC – Nobel laureate Derek Walcott has won the TS Eliot Prize for the best new collection of poems published in the United Kingdom or Ireland. 

The St. Lucian born Walcott, 81, took the prize against competition from an eclectic group of poets, including fellow Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney, Iraq war veteran Brian Turner and Sam Willetts, whose debut collection came after 10 years lost to addiction to and recovery from heroin.

He received the £15,000 (US$23,651) from Valerie Eliot, widow of TS Eliot at a ceremony at the Wallace Collection, London on Monday night.

The winning collection, White Egrets, was described by the chair of judges, poet Anne Stevenson, as "moving and technically flawless".

"It took us not very long to decide that this collection was the yardstick by which all the others were to be measured. These are beautiful lines; beautiful poetry," she said.

Stevenson praised Walcott's technical mastery, saying: "It is a complete book from first to last; each poem belongs completely."
"He is a very great poet – one of the finest poets writing in English."
The collection – described by the Guardian's reviewer, Sarah Crown, as a “superb meditation on death, grief and the passage of time” sees Walcott in elegiac mood, the egrets of the title become a shifting metaphor.

According to Stevenson, the collection "sees a return to his Caribbean setting after sojourns in England and America and he is, as it were, blessing the world instead of complaining about it".

Also on the shortlist of 10 were collections by Simon Armitage, Fiona Sampson, Pascale Petit, Annie Freud, John Haynes and Robin Robertson.

Stevenson said the judges could have drawn up "two or three" shortlists in a "bumper year" for poetry "of a very high order". The award also received eager public attention, with the Royal Festival Hall in London packed yesterday evening for readings by the shortlisted poets.

Walcott won the Nobel prize for literature in 1992. His major work is Omeros (1990), an epic poem weaving a Caribbean setting into material from Homer's Iliad and Odyssey.

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