Arts and Entertainment Sinéad Morrissey is the winner of the TS Eliot Prize

Winning the TS Eliot Prize is hardly a matter of life and death. But the film of that name inspired Sinéad Morrissey to pen a collection which finally secured the UK’s most prestigious poetry prize for Belfast’s first poet laureate.

White Egrets, By Derek Walcott

"The perpetual ideal is astonishment": Derek Walcott sees no point in aiming for anything less than great poetry, and he has certainly achieved it. The penalty he has sometimes paid lies in being tempted to grandiloquence in the effort to ignite the charge of imagination and feeling which makes his best work (for instance "The Schooner Flight") so compelling and authoritative. Published in poet's 80th year, White Egrets contains work of both kinds. The best is remarkable, with passages as good as anything he has written.

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Boyd Tonkin: Words that allow us to stare grief in the face

In a culture warier than ever of poetry in public places, it looks as if elegies can still take you through the grandest entrances. During the late 1990s, the Whitbread book of the year award (forerunner of the Costas, before beer gave way to coffee) went four times in succession to volumes of verse: two by Seamus Heaney, two by Ted Hughes.

Book Of A Lifetime: Letters, By Gustave Flaubert

I am, alas, to all intents and purposes, and to my eternal shame, an utterly uneducated, ignorant monoglot. I barely even speak English: I speak Essex. In my mind I sound like Daniel Barenboim delivering the Reith Lectures, or Garrison Keillor, rolling on with another Prairie Home Companion, or Seamus Heaney reciting, or Robin Lustig on the World Service, or WH Auden at the Royal Festival Hall sometime in the late 1960s. But when I speak, I sound like Joe Pasquale. I crush the language.

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The Bard, By Robert Crawford<br />A Night Out with Robert Burns, Ed. Andrew O'Hagan

Robert Burns is an exceptional poet, unique in popularity, unique in voice. His work has never been out of print since his first collection, Poems, Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, was published in 1786 (when he was 27), and is cherished, as Robert Crawford points out, far beyond Scotland and Europe. Burns is also the most vernacular of the printed poets, certainly of those occupying the EngLit canon. Even today, in an era of performance poetry, with several brilliant Scots writers working in that genre, it's difficult to think of anyone who articulates their politics and passions on the page with such immediacy. It's a truism that great literature is grounded in the voice, but literary transmission changes that voice: it goes underground and emerges as style. Rarely is voice so utterly audible as it is in Burns – as we read him, it's as if we heard him speaking.

Rising Star: Jen Hadfield, poet

As the youngest winner of the T S Eliot Prize, at 30, Jen Hadfield is also a relative newcomer. The £15,000 cheque that she collected on Monday has previously been awarded to Seamus Heaney, Carol Ann Duffy and Ted Hughes – though never to Andrew Motion, the chair of this year's judges.

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