Seamus Heaney wins £10k Forward poetry prize for Human Chain

Collection of poems inspired by Heaney's experiences after a stroke recognised by Britain's most valuable poetry prize

Seamus Heaney tonight won Britain's most valuable poetry prize – for a volume of verse inspired by his experiences after a stroke.

The £10,000 Forward award for best collection went to his Human Chain poems, his first since his stroke in 2006.

Ruth Padel, chair of the judges, said the work, published by Faber & Faber, was informed by being "on the brink", and called it "a collection of painful, honest, and delicately weighted poems", and "a wonderful and humane achievement".

Heaney, 71, suffered the stroke in 2006 in County Donegal in an episode that, he has said, left him "babyish".

One of the poems in his 12th collection, Chanson d'Aventure, is set during an ambulance journey on the way to hospital in which, he said, he was crying for his father.

Heaney's victory comes 44 years after his first collection, Death of a Naturalist, was published. He has never won the Forward prize despite twice being shortlisted – in 1996 for The Spirit Level, and in 2006 for District and Circle. He has been widely garlanded elsewhere, however, taking the TS Eliot prize in 2006, and two Whitbread Book of the Year awards, in 1996 for The Spirit Level in 1996 and in 1999 for Beowulf.

The poet missed tonight's ceremony at Somerset House, London, as he is out of the country.

He said: "The quality of the other books on the shortlist, my respect for the judges, and the distinction of previous winners have made this prize a prominent and highly regarded contribution to the life of poetry in this country; it is one of the most enhancing rewards which the art and the individual artist can be granted."

Padel said that the last year had been "astonishingly strong for poetry". Heaney overcame competition from an impressive shortlist: Lachlan Mackinnon, Sinead Morrissey, Robin Robertson, Fiona Sampson and Jo Shapcott were all in the running.

Other winners were Hilary Menos, who took the £5,000 Felix Dennis prize for best first collection – Berg, published by Seren – and Julia Copus, who won best single poem with An easy passage.

Padel was joined on the judging panel by poet and columnist Hugo Williams, performance poet Dreadlockalien, journalist and broadcaster Alex Clark and actor and director Fiona Shaw.


Benedicte Page

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