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Page 3 Profile: Alice Oswald, poet

A poet?! You have 10 seconds before I switch off… 10, 9 –

Wait! Give Alice Oswald a chance. This very smart woman deserves a moment of your time, and there’s even a bit of juice to this particular story.

OK, you have my attention.

She’s the first poet to win the £25,000 Warwick Prize for Writing for her work Memorial, which was awarded, unsurprisingly, by the University of Warwick. As well as the money, Oswald will be able to take up a short placement at the institution, although this Oxford University Classics graduate isn’t exactly in dire need of any more education. 

Classics you say?

Yup – and it heavily informed her winning text, which is a reworking of Homer’s Iliad. The original epic poem (which basically means a really long narrative about a nation’s heroes) tells the story of the Trojan War.

Why bother reworking it? Sounds a bit lazy to me…

Far from it. Professor Ian Sansom, who was the chair of the competition’s judges and therefore probably knows what he’s talking about, said: “My fellow judges and I were thrilled by its imaginative and intellectual ambition.”

You might remember Seamus Heaney translated Beowulf, another famous epic poem, and won the Whitbread Book of the Year Award in 1996. So it seems that re-jigging is a winning formula when it comes to poetry.

OK, enough poetry talk. Got any gossip? 

Well, despite being a gardener and living on a sleepy estate in Devon, Oswald isn’t afraid to prod the literary establishment. In 2011, Memorial was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize, the World Cup of poetry, but Oswald withdrew the book. She was protesting against the sponsorship of the Poetry Book Society, which runs the award, by an investment bank after the organisation lost its Arts Council Funding. She said: “I think poetry should be questioning, not endorsing such institutions.”

Well, I suppose she does seem noble in a bookish way…

Yes, and humble too. When her win was announced, she said: “I’m very surprised and grateful, both to the judges and to Homer.”

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