Heaney wins £10,000 TS Eliot prize

The most coveted award in poetry has been won by one of Britain's most celebrated living practitioners of the art, Seamus Heaney.

At a ceremony in London last night, the Nobel Laureate was named winner of the 2006 TS Eliot Prize worth £10,000. Heaney triumphed with his collection District and Circle against a strong shortlist including work by Simon Armitage, Paul Farley, Paul Muldoon and Hugo Williams.

Heaney, 67, who has been unwell recently and has not been undertaking public engagements, did not attend the ceremony where his victory was announced by Valerie Eliot, TS Eliot's widow. Paul Keegan, poetry editor of Heaney's publishers Faber and Faber, accepted the prize on his behalf. All the other shortlisted poets were present for a reading of Heaney's work in London on Sunday night by the poet Bernard O'Donoghue.

Heaney, who lives in the Irish Republic, said in a statement: "There are many reasons to feel honoured by the award of this prize: the aura of T S Eliot's name, for a start; the distinction of the previous winners; the quality of the other poets on this year's shortlist; and the high regard in which the judges are held. When I called one of the poems in District and Circle 'Anything Can Happen' I wasn't thinking that anything like this would happen to the book, but it certainly expresses what I'm feeling at the moment."

District and Circle is Heaney's 12th collection of poems. The sonnet sequence which gives the collection its name harks back to a summer in the early sixties when the poet travelled to work on the London Underground lines.

Andrew Motion, the Poet Laureate, praised "the undiminished freshness of his response to time-honoured things" while the New York Times critic said District and Circle, "brims with lovely evocations, reconstructions, restorations".

Heaney was born in County Derry in Northern Ireland in 1939, the son of a farmer and cattle-dealer and eldest member of a family that would include nine children. His first collection of poetry, Death of a Naturalist, was published in 1966.

He was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1995 and has twice won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award for The Spirit Level and then for Beowulf. He was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize in 2001 for Electric Light but Anne Carson took it that year with The Beauty of the Husband.

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