Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize

English poet Sian Hughes scoops the inaugural award

The inaugural winner of the Seamus Heaney Centre Prize for Best First Collection was announced during a special reception at the Arts Council of Northern Ireland this week, with English poet Sian Hughes picking up the prize for her debut poetry collection The Missing, published by Salt.

The Cheshire-born poet was selected by competition judges Ciaran Carson, Michael Longley and Sinead Morrissey, who singled out her work for particular praise from a competitive shortlist of new British and Irish poets.

'It's hard to believe that writing down these very small texts and trying to make them as clear and honest as I can could somehow turn me into a real poet,' Hughes commented after scooping the award. 'I still think of poetry as something unobtainable, like sneaking into the school stock cupboard and reading the sixth form copies of Seamus Heaney when I was supposed to be in the playground getting cold instead.

'Nothing has taken away that feeling of musical lift-off, of words going beyond their normal limits. This prize means that now my writing no longer only belongs to me, it also belongs in a small corner of that secret world in the stock cupboard. That's overwhelming.'

Rosemary Kelly, chairman of the Arts Council, commented: 'Sian Hughes is a worthy first winner of the prize and we are looking forward to seeing more from her in the future.'

Hughes lives near Banbury, Oxfordshire with her two young children and works for the Oxford and Cherwell Valley College running access courses for adults. In 2006 she won the Arvon International Poetry Competition with 'The Send Off', an elegy for her third child. The Missing is her first collection.

Belfast poet and contemporary of Seamus Heaney, Michael Longley chaired the panel for the Seamus Heaney Centre Poetry Prize. Commenting on the competition and the winning poet, he said: 'The entries were a good cross section of Irish and British poetry. They were serious and introspective, formerly alert and interested in shape and form. This is a great morale boost for the winner.'

The announcement took place at a reception, hosted by the Arts Council, to mark the opening of the British and Irish Contemporary Poetry Conference. The conference, now in its second session, is being hosted by the Seamus Heaney Centre at Queen’s University Belfast for the first time, drawing together poets and academics from across the UK and Ireland.

The Contemporary British and Irish Poetry Conference is taking place at Queen’s University from September 15-17. Members of the public are invited to attend evening poetry readings during the event where they can hear from leading lights such as Christopher Ricks, one of the greatest living commentators on contemporary poetry, Michael Schmidt, Christopher Reid, Peter McDonald, Carol Rumens and Gerald Dawe.

Anyone interested in attending the poetry readings should contact Gerry Hellawell at Queen’s University on 028 9097 1070 or email g.hellawell@qub.ac.uk for more information.