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Northern Ireland's Morrissey wins Eliot poetry prize

Source: Reuters - Mon, 13 Jan 2014 09:33 PM
Author: Reuters
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(Adds comments from Morrissey)

By Michael Roddy

LONDON, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Northern Irish poet Sinead Morrissey won Britain's prestigious T.S. Eliot prize on Monday for "Parallax", a collection that explores the nature of reality and includes a poem inspired by watching a film while giving birth.

Morrissey, who is the first poet laureate of Belfast and had been shortlisted for the prize on three previous occasions, will receive an award of 15,000 pounds ($24,600).

"I'm so delighted, it's a dream come true," she told Reuters after the prize was announced at a ceremony held at London's Hertford House, the home of the Wallace Collection of art.

Morrissey, whose winning collection examines the difference between perception and reality, said she had no explanation for why Northern Ireland, also the birthplace of late Nobel Prize winner Seamus Heaney, was a fertile breeding ground for poets.

"I think there is something distinctive about Northern Ireland and I think the poetry tradition from that very small place with that very small population is extraordinary. Why that is, I don't know," she said.

There was some sense beforehand that Morrissey might take the prize this year after her previous appearances on the short list. The judges were glowing in their praise of her work.

"Politically, historically and personally ambitious, expressed in beautifully turned language, her book is as many-angled and any-angled as its title suggests," prize jury chairman Ian Duhig said.

Born in 1972 in County Armagh, Morrissey is the author of five poetry collections: "There Was Fire in Vancouver" (1996); "Between Here and There" (2002); "The State of the Prisons" (2005); "Through the Square Window" (2009) and "Parallax" (2013).

One of the poems in her latest volume took its title from, and was in part inspired by watching, the 1946 David Niven film "A Matter of Life and Death", in which an aviator who is about to die in a crash escapes death because of an error on the part of the guide sent to take him to the afterlife.

She said the idea for the poem had come to her when she saw the film while she was in labour having her first child.

"The coincidence of it being about life and death while I was in that situation was too great an opportunity to pass up," she said.

The T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, named for the author of "The Waste Land" and "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock", was inaugurated in 1993 to celebrate the Poetry Book Society's 40th birthday and honour its founding poet.

Eliot was born in St. Louis, Missouri, but became a naturalised British citizen and was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948. ($1 = 0.6104 British pounds) (Editing by Mark Trevelyan)

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