Results of the Whitbread Book Award in the year 1996.
The Spirit Level was the first book of poems Heaney published after winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1995. Reviewing this book in The New York Times Book Review, Richard Tillinghast noted that Heaney “has been and is here for good…[His poems] will last. Anyone who reads poetry has reason to rejoice at living in the age when Seamus Heaney is writing.”
Christopher Reid’s minute observations from the periphery more often than not point to some sort of universal truth. In this collection the subjects of his curiosity include marriage, fantasy, ways of perceiving events and the sinister nature of children.
This is Alice Oswald’s first book of poems. More confident and achieved than many first collections, it shows her writing in an already distinct voice. The poems are intensely musical: she recites them from memory. Influenced by the rhythms of Hopkins, they speak passionately of nature and love. They have a religious sense of mystery, and try to express the intangible in marvellously vivid language. A long poem, ‘The Wise Men of Gotham’, which makes up the second part of the book, is, by contrast, a version of the folk-legend about the three men who went to sea in a boat in an attempt to catch the moon in the net.
Pauline Stainer is a poet ‘working at the margins of the sacred’, conveying sensations ‘with an economy of means that is breathtaking… her poems are not merely artefacts, they have an organic life of their own’ (John Burnside). Several sequences in The Wound-dresser’s Dream, her fourth collection inhabit an imaginative borderland inspired by her ‘visceral Muse’, including elegies, explorations of light and music, and the title-poem itself (drawn from Keats’ fancy to become a ship’s surgeon).