Philip Gross wins TS Eliot poetry prize for The Water Table

January 19, 2010

A collection of poems by Glamorgan Professor Philip Gross has scooped the UK’s foremost prize for poetry, the prestigious TS Eliot prize at a ceremony in London last night.

Phillip beat tough competition, including two former winners, with his collection of poems ‘The Water Table’- detailed and lyrical meditations on the ever-changing waters of the Severn estuary.

The TS Eliot prize is known as the UK’s most lucrative and high profile poetry prize.

Philip’s competition included better-known peers such as Alice Oswald, Sharon Olds and Christopher Reid.

Simon Armitage, who chaired the panel of three poets – the others were Colette Bryce and Penelope Shuttle – that chose the winner, said he hoped the win would introduce people to a new voice in contemporary poetry.

He said The Water Table stood out because it was not merely a collection of poems but also “so obviously a book”.

Armitage added, “It is so concentrated and keen-eyed and patient. The poems have a beauty and a craft to the writing and it’s hard to imagine how he kept it up over 64 pages.”

There are also poems about the more mundane human experience such as arguing in an Ikea car park.

“There are big concerns throughout the book and he writes with real lyrical confidence,” said Armitage.
He said the judging had been hard work, almost bewildering when they were going through the original 98 collections submitted for the prize. It was, he said, a strong, wider-ranging shortlist which reminded you “what an extraordinary thing the English language is”.

The TS Eliot prize is, according to Armitage, “the major poetry prize” recognising an art form that does not usually make people fortunes. The organisers have now made it the most financially lucrative poetry prize by raising the winner’s pot to £15,000, from £10,000. That money is donated by TS Eliot’s widow, Valerie Eliot, who presented the prize last night.

The Water Table is Gross’ sixth book of poems published by the Northumberland-based publisher Bloodaxe and he has also written ten novels for young people.

He follows in the footsteps of former winners such as Ted Hughes for Love Letters, Carol Ann Duffy for Rapture and Seamus Heaney for District and Circle.

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