Walcott's meditation on dying wins poetry prize

Nobel laureate Derek Walcott was honoured with Britain's most prestigious award for poetry last night when he won the TS Eliot prize.

Judges singled out his collection White Egrets as "possibly the last from the hand of the master".

The highly-acclaimed meditation on ageing and dying in his native Caribbean was published in the aftermath of Walcott's withdrawal from the race to be Oxford Professor of Poetry amid a smear campaign in which decades-old claims of sexual harassment by a student resurfaced during a bitterly fought election.

The eventual winner, Ruth Padel, eventually resigned her position fiercely denying any involvement in behind-the-scenes briefings against her opponent but not before the English-speaking poetry establishment had been scandalised by the unlikely turn of events among its greatest living practitioners.

Walcott was unable to attend the ceremony at the Wallace Collection in London. He was instead celebrating his 81st birthday in St Lucia where the event is marked by a national holiday. He was informed of the news of his victory by telephone.

Anne Stevenson, chairman of the three-strong judging panel, paid tribute to Walcott, who beat strong competition from Seamus Heaney and Simon Armitage to be awarded the £15,000 cheque.

She said Walcott was a true inheritor of Eliot's vision for the future of poetry, describing White Egrets as a "moving, risk-taking and technically flawless book by a great poet".

On Sunday night, more than 2,000 poetry lovers filled the Royal Festival Hall to listen to a series of readings by the 10 shortlisted poets, each of whom receive £1,000. Organisers said the scale of interest in what former poet laureate Andrew Motion described as "the prize most poets want to win" showed that the literary form continued to command a wide and passionate following. Previous winners of the award established 18 years ago to mark the 40th anniversary of the Poetry Book Society include Ted Hughes, Don Paterson and current Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy.

Both Walcott's grandmothers were the descendants of slaves and his work has brought to a wider audience the everyday experience of the Carib-bean and the bitter inheritance be-queathed by European colonialism.

He spent many years teaching in Boston in the US. It was during his time there, in 1982, that an allegation from a female Harvard student arose, which led to his withdrawal from the Oxford professorship. An anonymous letter sent to 100 Oxford academics included photocopied pages from her book about campus sexism entitled The Lecherous Professor, containing the claim that Walcott had asked her to "Imagine me making love to you. What would I do?" Another allegation emerged from 1996 from a second student, also in Boston.

Announcing his withdrawal from the contest – in which he was seen as frontrunner – in 2009, he said: "I am disappointed that such low tactics have been used... and I do not want to get into a race for a post where it causes embarrassment to those who have chosen to support me... or to myself."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor