Entertainment & Arts

Andrew Motion radio programme wins Ted Hughes poetry award

Andrew Motion
Image caption The first poetry book Sir Andrew Motion bought was by World War One poet Wilfred Owen

A radio programme by former poet laureate Andrew Motion exploring the impact of war has won the Ted Hughes Award for New Work in Poetry.

Coming Home featured conversations with British troops returning from Afghanistan alongside "innovative" new poems by Sir Andrew.

It was broadcast on Radio 4 last November to mark Remembrance Day.

The £5,000 prize is funded from the honorarium the current laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, receives from the Queen.

Sir Andrew visited a British army base in Germany where he interviewed a number of soldiers and their families. He used those conversations as the basis for the radio programme and a series of new poems reflecting on the effect of conflict.

In an interview with the BBC last year about Coming Home, Sir Andrew said: "The first poetry book I ever bought was one by Wilfred Owen. But however great those poems are, there's a sense that you're hearing the men speak through their officers and I wanted to do something more direct."

One of the Ted Hughes award judges, Julia Copus, said the resulting radio piece was a "deserving winner".

"We loved the way in which the listener is invited into the writing process: first we eavesdrop on conversations with the soldiers, and then we witness the poems hatching from those conversations.

"The author has gone to some lengths to absent himself from the lines, and claims to have changed very little to produce what he calls 'a rapid fire kind of poetry', but don't be fooled: Motion's skilful shaping and alterations have resulted in a subtle and magical transformation."

Roger McGough, the president of the Poetry Society and presenter of R4's Poetry Please, told the BBC: "Poetry fits very well on radio, it's the place for it."

Also on this year's Ted Hughes shortlist were Patience Agbabi, Imtiaz Dharker, Carrie Etter and Alice Oswald.

Sir Andrew was poet laureate from 1999 to 2009. He was knighted for his services to poetry in 2009.

One Tourniquet

From Coming Home by Andrew Motion

It was a long time ago

but I was there,

a combat medical technician.

I saw

children and IEDs

which wasn't nice at all.

One boy:

he had shorts and a dirty vest,

he stood on a mine;

he was conscious at first,


and I thought

what a mess.

All in bit of field.

None of the other kids cried,

they're quite sort of tough.

Very tough kids in fact.


At the time

we were only issued one tourniquet each.

Camp Phoenix was down the road

and he went there.

A double amputee.

But we heard later he survived.

So yeah, brilliant.

Everything is hard.

Everything they've got to do,

everywhere they've got to go.

Just hard.

I used to imagine

little towns in the country

nobody knew.

Little towns nobody had touched.

There would be people living there

all the same.

Just living there

in the vastness.

Also announced on Thursday was the winner of the National Poetry Competition - the world's biggest international open poetry competition for single poems.

Roger Philip Dennis's poem Corkscrew Hill Photo was chosen from 13,000 poems to win the £5,000 prize.

Judge Roddy Lumsden called it a "stunning poem which mixes sweetness, sentiment, the visual and a touch of the grotesque".

Corkscrew Hill Photo by Roger Philip Dennis

All afternoon she counts the sounds

until the fly-specked room crackles with silence.

Even the song thrush noteless. A thick drizzle

trickles rivulets down the window pane,

smears distance on fields, curtains-off hills

and greens the sagged thatch,

aches in the creaking gate and screws

watering eye to misting glass:

a hearse skids slowly up the muddy lane,

blurs in droplets on a spider-web,

spins sideways into darkness...

Dennis, an artist who runs painting workshops from his studio in Devon, was inspired to write the poem many years after taking a landscape photograph in the early 1980s.

He is the 37th person to win the Poetry Society's National Poetry Competition since it began in 1978. Previous winners include Helen Dunmore, Ruth Padel, Philip Gross, Carol Ann Duffy, Jo Shapcott and Tony Harrison.

This year's competition, which is judged anonymously, attracted a record number of entries from 84 countries.

"I didn't know there were 84 countries!" McGough told the BBC. "So many people have been helped by winning this. It also encourages other people.

"Poetry's important. If you don't have competitions it's very easy for poetry to get lost."

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