Sorrow of Aids inspires poet to TS Eliot award

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CLARE GARNER

The winner of the TS Eliot Prize was announced last night as Mark Doty, an American who picked up the award for the first collection of his poetry to be published in the UK.

The pounds 5,000 prize was presented by Eliot's widow, Valerie, at the Polish Hearth Club, in west London, for My Alexandria (published by Cape), which includes poems inspired by Mr Doty's experience of his partner living with HIV and Aids. The collection has already won the Los Angeles Times Book Award and the National Book Critics Award.

Liz Lochhead, a poet, performer, playwright and broadcaster, joined James Fenton, Professor of Poetry at Oxford, and Maura Dooley, former literature officer at the South Bank Centre, on the panel of judges. Ms Lochhead said: "Mark Doty's outstanding My Alexandria has been justly lauded in his native America and burst upon Britain this year with the force that such rage, beauty and sorrow must summon ...

"These are made deeply personal and poignant for Mr Doty. His partner was diagnosed as HIV positive in 1989 and these poems are, he says, written in the strange and anxious period between them and the onset of Aids. It's not the shadow we remember from his poetry, but froths of flowers, rainstreaks, rusts ..."

The prize - for the best collection of poetry published in the UK and Republic of Ireland - was inaugurated by the Poetry Book Society in 1993 to celebrate its 40th anniversary and honour the poet. Mr Doty, who lives in Massachusetts, has written two previous books of poetry, Bethlehem in Broad Daylight and Turtle, Swan.

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