Poet Stephen Sexton channels grief over mum's death to produce award-winning collection
A Co Down poet has won a prestigious Forward Prize for his debut work, which details how a childhood computer game helped him come to terms with grief.
Acclaimed poet Stephen Sexton from Ballygowan won the £5,000 prize for Best First Collection for If All The World And Love Were Young, published by Penguin Books.
Referencing his favourite childhood computer game Super Mario World, it is a tribute to his mother Elizabeth, who died from cancer in 2012.
Following her death, he started writing a book of poems that initially were meant to be frivolous and entertaining, revolving around the classic Super Nintendo game.
But as he wrote, while wrestling with intense grief, what developed was a moving narrative exploring cancer, bereavement, family life, loss and memories.
Damian Smyth, head of literature and drama at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland, said: "We've known for some years in Belfast that Stephen Sexton is an outstandingly gifted writer even in a city teeming with talent.
"His first pamphlet in 2014 was a major prizewinner. He received an ACES award from the Arts Council of Northern Ireland in 2016, won the National Poetry Competition for a single poem in 2017 and a Gregory Award in 2018.
"Now this Forward Prize is another and massive recognition of his gift.
"It's poignant that the person for whom the whole book is an elegy, his late mum, didn't see the acclaim lavished on her son's poems.
"But there are few contemporary works which describe the human processes of grief, loss, hurt and how love survives and endures as memorably and as movingly as this one, with virtuoso technique and profound wisdom, which I have to say is already a classic.
"What an achievement that is and what a poet."