Nature poet wins £10,000 prize for scaling lyrical heights

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A Scottish poet became the third woman in 13 years to win Britain's most valuable prize for contemporary poetry yesterday with a lyrical exploration of nature.

A Scottish poet became the third woman in 13 years to win Britain's most valuable prize for contemporary poetry yesterday with a lyrical exploration of nature.

Kathleen Jamie, 42, from Fife, scooped the £10,000 prize for the Best Collection at the Forward Poetry awards in London for her book, The Tree House .

She joins Britain's most celebrated poets including Ted Hughes and the female poets Carol Ann Duffy and Jo Shapcott, who have previously won the Best Collection category.

Jamie writes some of her poems in Scots Gaelic and they have been compared, stylistically, to the works of Robert Burns. In the poems, she uses vivid images of birds, animals and rural idylls to examine the nature of human consciousness.

Other winners include Leontia Flynn, 29, who won the £5,000 Felix Dennis Prize for These Days in the Best First Collection category for her moving memories of early family life in Belfast. Daljit Nagra, whose parents emigrated from the Punjab in the early Sixties, collected £1,000 for Best Single Poem for "Look We Have Coming to Dover!" in which he explores the sense of promise felt by the immigrants entering Britain since the late 1950s.

Lavinia Greenlaw, who chaired the judging panel, which included the poets Ruth Fainlight, WN Herbert and Patience Agbabi, said she was "delighted" this year's winners had been recognised in a traditionally male discipline.

"Obviously, the identity of a poet has no bearing on our judgement of a poem. It is not who you are judging but what you are judging. However, it gives me additional pleasure to find that the poetry coming out on top is being drawn from a bigger pool. I hope ... we are reaching a moment in which poets feel able to expand and refine and test what they are doing beyond what we might conventionally expect women poets to do or what they expect from themselves," she said.

Jamie's work was chosen from an impressive shortlist of established poets including Kate Clanchy for Newborn , Michael Longley's Snow Water , Michael Symmons Roberts's Corpus and August Kleinzahler's The Strange Hours Travellers Keep .

She has won a host of awards including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize twice in 1996 and 2000, the Somerset Maugham Award in 1994 and the Forward Prize for best poem in 1996.

Greenlaw said the work formed a challenge to the way that contemporary poets had described nature. She said: "Not only is she reaching new heights both technically and imaginatively but to me this collection is a very significant development on the contemporary lyric, challenging its precepts. It questions the conventions with which we observe and describe nature ... and it removes the human ego."

She said while the themes in Jamie's work were familiar, she managed to renew them.

The best poems from all the entries for this year's prizes are published in an anthology, The Forward Book of Poetry 2005 , available from today.


by Kathleen Jamie

The land we inhabit opens to reveal

the stain of ancient settlements, plague pits where we'd lay

our fibre optic cables;

but witness these brittle August

bluebells casting seed,

like tiny hearts in caskets

tossed onto a battle ground.