The Blagger's Guide To...The Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry

Life, death, lunch and prisoners in the rain

*Hailed "a superstar" of British poetry, Carol Ann Duffy has also become a Robin Hood figure since being made Poet Laureate in 2009.

Clearly the honour of versifying Prince William's wedding and receiving 477 litres of finest Buckingham Palace sherry have been reward enough for Duffy because she has given away her £5,750 honorarium to create a poetry prize named after a previous laureate, Ted Hughes. The annual sum now goes to the Poetry Society, which runs the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry. Hughes took the laureate post more seriously than most: he was a friend of Prince Charles, and read bedtime stories to the young princes William and Harry at Highgrove.

*This is the second year the prize has been run, which distinguishes itself for seeking not just conventional poetry in words, but also in music and performance. Last year's award went to Alice Oswald, for her collection Weeds and Wild Flowers. All work created between 1 January and 31 December 2010 is eligible, and a shortlist of five has been selected. The winner will be announced on 24 March. The shortlist has works that include elements of film, translation and live performance. Here are the contenders:

*Martin Figura has written a series of poems called Whistle, which he also performs as a one-man show. It tells the story of the death of his mother, killed by his father when he was nine. Critics have called it "profoundly honest and at the same time joyfully entertaining", and despite the grisly subject matter, it manages to be profound yet humorous.

*Tragedy is at the heart of The Persians, Kaite O'Reilly's retelling of Aeschylus's play of the same name. Even in 472BC The Persians was unusual, being the only Greek play to take a recent event – the defeat of the Persians at the Battle of Salamis – as a subject. O'Reilly wrote her version specifically for a site in Brecon where it premiered last summer. As an accomplished classicist, perhaps it is no wonder that O'Reilly has been awarded a commission by the 2012 Cultural Olympiad.

*One of the hits to emerge from the BBC's poetry season last October was Christopher Reid's The Song of Lunch, a one-off drama in verse inspired by a scene in James Joyce's Ulysses. Starring Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, it tells the story of a lunch in a Soho restaurant with two former lovers. Reid wrote it after writing a book about the death of his wife, and found himself weaving the Orpheus legend into the story – no wonder the BBC commissioning bod said "her heart sank" when he pitched it. Still, the critics went mad for it.

*You might think it's the least of their worries, but prisoners long to feel the rain. This was one of the poignant discoveries made by David Swann after spending a year as writer in residence at HMP Nottingham, inspiring his collection The Privilege of Rain. Swann used to write match reports for Accrington Stanley; today he teaches creative writing, and unlike prison writers such as Jeffrey Archer, was able to come and go when he pleased.

*Music and sound are at the heart of Katharine Towers's debut poetry collection, The Floating Man. The Oxford graduate and mother of two writes with what has been called a "pianistic sense of timing, touch and tone", about nature and music. "Music's precision is something that poetry will always have to aspire to," she recently said. Sounds like a perfect winner for the Ted Hughes Prize.

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