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'A poet for dark and dangerous days' wins 2014 T S Eliot Prize

12 January 2015

When David Harsent received the 2014 T S Eliot Prize for Poetry in the elegant surroundings of the Courtyard at the Wallace Collection in London, he had won a prize which has recently been increased to £20,000, the richest prize in British poetry. It's appropriate to think of T S Eliot's money going to a contemporary poet through the generosity of the Eliot Estate. Much of this comes from Cats, the hugely successful musical made out of Eliot's beloved children's book Old Possum's Book of Practical Cats, adapted by Andrew Lloyd Webber and long a global blockbuster.

The ten shortlisted poets also each received £1,500, some comfort at least for not winning, although being on the shortlist and reading at the wonderful Readings in the Southbank's Royal Festival Hall on Sunday night will also have given them a real promotional boost, especially the less well-known amongst them, such as debut poet Fiona Benson. This event attracts a huge audience, the biggest of the British poetry year, and is attended by an enthusiastic repeat audience which ranges widely in age and is drawn from a wide geographical area.

For David Harsent it's the crowning achievement of a very distinguished career. It's the fifth time he's been on the Eliot shortlist but he has previously won both the Griffin International Prize and the Forward Prize. A poet writing at the height of his powers, his book Fire Songs is a stunning achievement. He is also a Faber poet and in the year marking the 50th anniversary of T S Eliot's death it is good to see the poetry list which Eliot built still flourishing.

Chair of the judges Helen Dunmore said: ‘David Harsent is a poet for dark and dangerous days. Fire Songs plumbs language and emotion with technical brilliance and prophetic power.'

For the Poetry Book Society, which runs and award the Prize, it is the crowning moment of the year. The PBS set up the Prize in 1993 to mark the twentieth anniversary of the founding of the organisation by T S Eliot and friends ‘to propagate the art of poetry' by bringing a selection of the best new poetry books to readers, chosen by the poet selectors. Eliot was a publisher as well as a great poet and he showed a healthy concern for readers, essential for poets just as much as for other kinds of writers.