Poet Sharon Olds scoops TS Eliot Prize for 'confessional' work about her husband's affair


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If revenge is a dish best served cold, Sharon Olds must have been licking her lips last night. Fifteen years after her husband ran off with another woman, the poet scooped the UK’s most prestigious poetry prize for a collection that explored the experience in detail.

The Poetry Book Society (PBS) announced last night that the collection Stag’s Leap had won the TS Eliot Prize for Poetry, in a year that had seen a record 131 submissions.

The collection has been described as “beyond the confessional” and details the collapse of her 30-year marriage in painful detail.

The poet waited 15 years to take on the subject, after telling her children she would not publish anything for at least a decade.

The collection covers the weeks from her husband announcing he was leaving, and covers her devastation, the loss and each other’s failures. In one poem she said: “I did not know him,/ I did not work not to lose him, and I lost him.”

Olds told one interviewer that she had not run the collection past her husband – something she had always done when they were married – and added Stag’s Leap was “not a fair or a balanced book”.

Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy, who chaired the panel of judges, said the decision to award the prize to Olds, the first American to win, was unanimous.

She called it a “tremendous book of grace and gallantry, which crowns the career of a world-class poet”. Olds was presented with the award and a cheque for £15,000 in the Courtyard at the Wallace Collection yesterday. The other nine shortlisted poets received £1,000 each.

Olds uses poetry to explore close relationships. Her 1992 collection The Father was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize, as was One Secret Thing in 2009, which covered family relationships and the death of her mother.

The TS Eliot poetry prize celebrated its 20th anniversary this year. It was set up in 1993 to celebrate 40 years of PBS. Last year, Scottish poet John Burnside won for his collection Black Cat Bone.