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John Walsh

John Walsh: Without Aurum's help the award could not go ahead

Alice Oswald is published by Faber & Faber, whose profits were boosted for years by royalties from Cats, Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical version of Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats by TS Eliot. Eliot once worked at Lloyds Bank. Does Ms Oswald not feel sullied by the association with Lord Lloyd-Webber? Or by the evidence of Eliot's Mammon-worship?

She won the TS Eliot Prize in 2002 with her collection Dart, accepting the £10,000 cheque from Eliot's widow, Valerie. The prize is still in Mrs Eliot's gift. It does not issue from the coffers of Aurum Funds, which underwrites the costs of managing the prize and the poetry reading that precedes it. Without Aurum's help, the prize could not go ahead.

The Booker Prize was attacked when its sponsorship was taken on by the Man Group, but no shortlisted writer has pulled out of the £50,000 prize in protest at its fat-cat clients.

Ms Oswald seems reluctant to accept a deal that's standard in sponsorship. A rich company, embarrassed by making obscene amounts of money, offers to help a small literary organisation. Many writers (and poets) feel this is a trade-off worth having. WH Auden greatly approved of the small fortune he made from poetry sponsorship, as he wrote in "On the Circuit": "An airborne instrument I sit,/ Predestined nightly to fulfil/ Columbia-Giesen Management's/ Unfathomable will,//By whose election justified,/ I bring my gospel of the Muse/ To fundamentalists, to nuns,/ to Gentiles and to Jews."