Alice Oswald wins inaugural Ted Hughes awardNew prize sponsored by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy goes to ‘unsettling and unsettled’ collection Weeds and Wild Flowers
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 30 March 2010 20.20 BST
The inaugural Ted Hughes award for new work in poetry, founded by Carol Ann Duffy, has gone to Alice Oswald, a nature poet who writes “very much in the tradition” of Hughes, according to the poet laureate.
Oswald won the £5,000 prize, funded with Duffy’s yearly stipend from the Queen, for Weeds and Wild Flowers, in which she has imagined the characters behind the evocative names of common plants and flowers. Judges considered radio poems, film poems, public art inscriptions and works for the stage for the prize, intended to reward “the most exciting contribution to poetry” in the past year. Oswald’s collection, interspersed with etchings by Jessica Greenman, was selected ahead of shortlisted poets including former laureate Andrew Motion with his collection The Cinder Path, and Jackie Kay’s bringing together of verse, music and theatre The Maw Broon Monologues.
Poet and judge Jo Shapcott said Oswald’s collection crossed “artistic boundaries and age boundaries and is unsettling and unsettled in every good way”; Duffy, who was not involved with the judging process, agreed that the collaboration with Greenman was “unusual”, and fit the award’s criteria. “I think it was a fabulous shortlist anyway, but Alice Oswald of all poets working today is probably the most like Hughes, so it seems fitting that she gets the first award,” the poet laureate added. “And I think Ted would have been bowled over by her collection.”
Judge and director Tim Supple, who worked with Hughes on various theatrical productions, said the consensus among judges over selecting Oswald’s collection as winner “was very swift”. “What’s startling is the sheer bravura, the idiosyncrasy, the uniqueness of the work. It’s extremely rooted and almost unfashionably English and rural, and is something which is very right for a Ted Hughes award,” he said. “The breadth and elasticity of her vocabulary is brilliant – she’s playing with language, but not in a self-conscious way; there doesn’t seem to be any self-consciousness about it at all. [And language] is something Ted himself was very insistent on – he was obsessed with breadth of vocabulary.”
As well as the new award, which will be awarded annually throughout Duffy’s 10-year term as laureate, Hughes – a poet laureate himself – has also been honoured with the news last week that his life and achievements would be marked with a memorial in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey. Duffy, at Buckingham Palace last week for the awarding of Don Paterson’s Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry, said the Queen had been “very pleased” with the attention Hughes had been getting. “‘He was a great friend of my mama’, she told me,” Duffy said. “It was lovely.”
Oswald, who was announced as winner of the Ted Hughes prize this evening by Hughes’s widow Carol Hughes, said she was “deeply honoured to be given an award with Ted Hughes’s name on it, and pleased that it’s an award that dips beyond the mainstream into some of the more unusual poetic channels”. She also thanked the poet laureate for establishing the new prize, which is run by the Poetry Society. “This is a really generous and revolutionary gesture by Carol Ann Duffy,” she said. “I love the way she is re-inventing the laureateship.”
Oswald lives and works as a gardener in Devon, and has previously won the TS Eliot prize for Dart and the Forward prize for best first collection for The Thing in the Gap-Stone Stile. In her introduction to Weeds and Wild Flowers, she says her hope is “that the experience of reading and looking at the book will be a slightly unsettling pleasure, like walking through a garden at night, when the plants come right up to the edges of their names and beyond them”.