Olds wins T S Eliot Prize

Sharon Olds has won the 20th anniversary T S Eliot prize for Stag's Leap (Jonathan Cape). 

Olds is the first US woman poet to win the award and was chosen from a record 131 submissions.

Stag's Leap, a collection of poems describing the departure of a husband of 30 years, was described by chair of the judges Carol Ann Duffy as "a tremendous book of grace and gallantry which crowns the career of a world-class poet". It was the unanimous choice for the £15,000 award by the panel of judges, also featuring Michael Longley and David Morley.

However Duffy also paid tribute to the "freshness, skill and authority" exhibited in this year's shortlist. "We were particularly impressed by the strong presence of women on the list," she added. 

Olds, who was born in San Francisco in 1942, has also had two previous collections - The Father (1992) and One Secret Thing (2009) - shortlisted for the T S Eliot award.

The other collections in contention for the prize, and receiving £1,000 apiece, were The Death of King Arthur by Simon Armitage (Faber); Bee Journal by Sean Borodale (Jonathan Cape); Ice by Gillian Clarke (Carcanet); The World's Two Smallest Humans by Julia Copus (Faber); Paul Farley's The Dark Film (Picador); Jorie Graham's P L A C E (Carcanet); Kathleen Jamie's The Overhaul (Picador); Jacob Polley's The Havocs (Picador); and Deryn Rees-Jones' Burying the Wren (Seren).

The Poetry Book Society said it would "like to acknowledge Mrs Valerie Eliot's great generosity in providing the prize money since the inception of the Prize [in 1993] and to say how much she was missed at this year's Prize events." Valerie Eliot, the poet's widow, died in November.

2012 is also the second year of a three-year support programme for the prize from private investment management firm Aurum.

Speaking at last night's awards ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London's Manchester Square, PBS chairman Desmond Clarke said: "Tonight's prize giving is a very special event because we are also celebrating  the 60th anniversary of the setting up of the PBS by T S Eliot, Stephen Spender and Sir Basil Blackwell. It was thanks to their imagination and drive that the Society has been able to bring outstanding new collections of poetry to a much wider audience for 60 years.... The 240 books chosen over the past 60 years..add up to a remarkable library of contemporary poetry."

This poem is from Stag's Leap, published by Jonathan Cape:

Unspeakable

Now I come to look at love
in a new way, now that I know I¹m not
standing in its light. I want to ask my
almost-no-longer husband what it¹s like to not
love, but he does not want to talk about it,
he wants a stillness at the end of it.
And sometimes I feel as if, already,
I am not here  to stand in his thirty-year
sight, and not in love¹s sight,
I feel an invisibility
like a neutron in a cloud chamber buried in a mile-long
accelerator, where what cannot
be seen is inferred by what the visible
does. After the alarm goes off,
I stroke him, my hand feels like a singer
who sings along him, as if it is
his flesh that¹s singing, in its full range,
tenor of the higher vertebrae,
baritone, bass, contrabass.
I want to say to him, now, What
was it like, to love me  when you looked at me,
what did you see? When he loved me, I looked
out at the world as if from inside
a profound dwelling, like a burrow, or a well, I¹d gaze
up, at noon, and see Orion
shining  when I thought he loved me, when I thought
we were joined not just for breath¹s time,
but for the long continuance,
the hard candies of femur and stone,
the fastnesses. He shows no anger,
I show no anger but in flashes of humour
all is courtesy and horror. And after
the first minute, when I say, Is this about
her, and he says, No, it¹s about
you, we do not speak of her.