Thanks to the Guardian online for this one..
Lavinia Greenlaw's "outstanding" sound work Audio Obscura, which sent listeners on journeys of discovery through Manchester Piccadilly and London St Pancras train stations, has won the Ted Hughes award for new work in poetry.
The prize, established by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, rewards "the most exciting contribution to poetry" over the last year. A drama documentary by Simon Armitage, an orchestral piece by Christopher Reid set in the first world war, and a sequence of dramatic war poems by Andrew Motion were all in the running for this year's award. Greenlaw's work gave its audience headphones and led them through the bustle of London St Pancras and Manchester Piccadilly train stations, listening to individual narratives. It was felt by judges to "fully capture the spirit" of the Ted Hughes award.
"Wandering through St Pancras and listening to Lavinia Greenlaw's Audio Obscura was an extraordinary experience of what poetry can do," said judge, sculptor and author Edmund de Waal, who was joined on the panel by the poets Sarah Maguire and Michael Symmons Roberts. "It was profoundly moving, an inward and private journey in a very public place."
Greenlaw, a poet and novelist, said she was delighted to win the £5,000 award. "I can't tell you how pleased I am, not only with a panel of such eminent judges, but that people recognise this as part of my body of work, not a diversion. It absolutely goes to the heart of what I do," she said. "[The judges] understood that, which is just fantastic. I did think people might think it was a sort of side show novelty, or some completely ungraspable conceptual self-indulgence. But I believe in it, in what it became, and am really grateful to the people who took me there, and to the judges who understood it was part of my poetry.
The concept for Audio Obscura, Greenlaw said, came from two places. "I'd done quite a lot of radio work so I was really interested in this format – the idea of only working with what people hear – but I wanted to take it out of the structure of a radio play. Then I have always been interested in the chinks and edges of perception, and how we make sense of what's in front of us. I wanted to really get at the relation between what we see and what we hear.
"Everyone in a station is in a state of tension," she said, "they're coming from somewhere or going somewhere. I really wanted to explore that state of tension. Everyone looks contemplative, and I wanted to explore their thoughts."
Her audience, she explained, was given a set of headphones and an MP3 player, and told to wander through the crowd. "You hear station noise so you forget you have headphones on, and the idea you're cut off goes," she said. "Then these voices start appearing. At first you think they're voices you're overhearing in the crowd, then you start to overhear interior monologues – some are quite painful and explicit, some uplifting."
She chose to write monologues by characters whom she felt there was a chance of people seeing. "I spent a long time coming up with situations you could map on to the people around you. So there's a teenage girl, waiting," she said. "Having recorded these monologues, which are more poetic than narrative, I broke them down. I wanted to get to the point where you could overhear enough to imagine the rest."
Thousands of people listened to the sound show, which took place at Manchester Piccadilly in July 2011 and at St Pancras in September and October 2011. Greenlaw said she would love to write a similar piece again. "I think it was such a clever thing Carol Ann Duffy did, that the award should be for new work in poetry," she said. "It recognises that we all want to work off the page, and to test the edges of what we're doing, and to explore what we are doing in other ways and in other forms."
The Ted Hughes prize was established by Duffy in 2009 and funded from the annual stipend the laureate traditionally receives from the Queen. Its previous winners are Alice Oswald, for her book Weeds and Wild Flowers, and Kaite O'Reilly for her verse translation of Aeschylus's The Persians.
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