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Belfast poet laureate Sinead Morrissey scoops top UK award


Winning the TS Eliot Prize is not a matter of life and death – but a film of that name inspired Belfast's first poet laureate to pen a collection which has won her Britain's most prestigious poetry prize.

Last night the Poetry Book Society (PBS) announced that Dr Sinead Morrissey, previously shortlisted three times, had won the most lucrative award in British poetry for Parallax, a collection exploring the artificiality of art.

Her poem – A Matter Of Life And Death – was inspired by the 1946 film of that name.

The poem captures David Niven, who plays the RAF pilot who bails out of his burning plane in the film, on an escalator on his way to heaven. The film's theme was paralleled by her own experience of a grandmother dying just before her baby was born.

Described as a "dazzling talent" who "wouldn't have appeared out of place among Virginia Woolf's Bloomsbury set" with her "blue-stocking" look, Dr Morrissey (41) was appointed Belfast's inaugural poet laureate last summer.

She is reader in creative writing at the Seamus Heaney Centre in Belfast and her TS Eliot win is a sign of the depth of talent of Northern Ireland poetry after the death of Heaney – a previous TS Eliot winner – last year.

Its groundbreaking images of Belfast's slums by the Edwardian photographer Alexander Robert Hogg, also provided inspiration.

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Ian Duhig, chair of judges, said: "Politically, historically and personally ambitious, expressed in beautifully turned language, her book is as many-angled and any-angled as its title suggests."

Dr Morrissey, who lives in Belfast with her husband and two children, collected the £15,000 prize at a ceremony in the Courtyard of the Wallace Collection in London.

Northern Ireland poet Paul Muldoon is also a previous winner of the prize, which recognises the author of the best new collection of poetry published in the UK and Ireland each year.

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