Ted Hughes poetry award: Ecologist David Morley wins £5,000 prize for The Invisible Gift

The judges said The Invisible Gift was “like opening a box of fireworks"

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The Independent Culture

David Morley, an ecologist who studied the impact of acid rain in the Lake District, has won the Ted Hughes award for New Work in Poetry.

The £5,000 prize, funded by Carol Ann Duffy from her honorarium as Poet Laureate, was awarded to the Blackpool-born poet for his collection, The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems.

Morley’s subjects range from Romani tales and political allegory to poetry which “evokes the enchantment and truth of the natural world and our place in it.”

A former research fellow at the Freshwater Biological Association who produces “slow poetry” sculptures within natural landscapes, Morley’s podcasts are among the top downloads on iTunes worldwide.

The judges said The Invisible Gift was “like opening a box of fireworks; something theatrical happens when you open its pages, and a curtain is raised on a tradition that has been overlooked. In these poems, David Morley switches forms and registers to reveal the versatility of the voices and the liveliness of the Romani culture, arguing for a tradition which has been invisible and silent. Ted Hughes wrote about the natural magical and mythical world; The Invisible Gift is a natural successor.” 

Previous winners of the Ted Hughes prize include Andrew Motion and Kate Tempest.

A poem about a sleep-deprived new father’s late-night dash to the shops beat 12,000 contenders to win the National Poetry Competition prize, awarded at the same London ceremony.

Eric Berlin’s poem Night Errand won the £5,000 Poetry Society award. Previous winners of the award, which attracted entries from 73 countries, include Carol Ann Duffy and Tony Harrison. 

The Society said: “The winning poem explores a fleeting private moment: with a sleep-deprived dad making a dash to the shops on a mundane errand, a flash of anger, and the shame that follows. The setting is a mall in upstate New York, but the emotions and the experience are universally human.”

The Invisible Gift

By David Morley

John Clare weaves English words into a nest
and in the cup he stipples rhyme, like mud,
to clutch the shape of something he can hold
but not yet hear; and in the hollow of his hearing,
he feathers a space with a down of verbs
and nouns heads-up. There. Clare lays it down
and nestles over its forming sound: taps and lilts,
the steady knocking of the nib on his hand until
it hatches softly beneath him. And when he peers
below his palm, he spies its eyes, hears its peeps,
but does not yet know what to think. He strokes
its tottering yolk-wet crown; feels a nip against
his thumb, buds of muscle springy at the wing, and all
the hungers of the world to come for this small singing.

From ‘The Gypsy and the Poet’, The Invisible Gift: Selected Poems (Carcanet, 2015)

Night Errand

By Eric Berlin

O, Great Northern Mall, you dwindling oracle
of upstate New York, your colossal lot
of frost-heaved spaces so vacant I could cut
straight through while blinking and keep my eyes
shut, I’ve come like the flies that give up the ghost
at the papered fronts of your defunct stores,
through the food court where napkins, unused
to touch, are packed too tight to be dispensed,
past the pimpled kid manning the register
who stares at the buttons and wipes his palms.
If I press my eyes until checkers rise
from the dark – that’s how the overheads glower
in home essentials as I roam through Sears,
seeking assistance. I know you’re here.

For this window crank I brought, you show me
a muted wall of TVs where Jeff Goldblum
picks his way through the splintered remains
of a dinosaur crate. There must be fifty
of him, hunching over mud to inspect
the three-toed prints. I almost didn’t
come in here at all, driving the opposite
of victory laps, and waiting as I hoped
for the red to leave my eyes, but my urgency
smacked of your nothingness. I did it again –
I screamed at the woman I love, and in front
of our one-year-old, who covered his ears.

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