When Elizabeth Smither heard she'd won a $60,000 poetry prize she was stunned into calmness.
She also couldn't tell a soul.
It wasn't until the next day that the New Plymouth writer felt a growing excitement about winning the Prime Minister's Award for poetry.
"You know that feeling when you are out driving in the car and you are sort of grinning to yourself."
Smither received the award from Helen Clark at Premier House in Wellington last night.
The other recipients of the awards for literary achievement were Mister Pip author Lloyd Jones for fiction and Bill Oliver for non-fiction.
Smither, who has written 18 books of selected poems, four novels and five collections of short stories, learnt of the honour about 10 days before last night's presentation.
Initially, she thought the person from Creative New Zealand was phoning about a grant application.
"I thought I'd probably filled it out wrong."
Although she had to keep mum about the prize, she celebrated privately by splashing out on wine and chocolate at the supermarket.
"I must admit I have put some things on the Visa card. Then I thought perhaps it's a hoax - sorry it's cancelled - and I will have to take an extra job," Smither said, laughing.
The former poet laureate says the win has made her feel like a Lotto winner. She plans to save some of the money, sponsor a child, buy more chocolate and wine, take a trip to Melbourne and get her deck fixed.
She will also continue to write. A fifth novel is taking shape and she's slowly gathering a new crop of poems, penned during a weekly writing ritual.
"I think poetry writing is a form where you need to build up a small head of steam."
To help tickle her muse, she makes herself a cup of tea, sits on her bed with a pad of paper and dips into the words of others. "A poetry session is invariably stimulated by reading really good poets," she said.
"It's like watching the All Blacks - you aim for the best because that's the most stimulating and marvellous thing to do."
Then she writes furiously, scribbling lines and crossing out entire poems. "I work like a mad rabbit - I write very quickly."
A retired librarian, Smither says she was often asked to help find appropriate poems for funerals and weddings. "Poetry is not platitudes - it's something that has a real deep impact and people recognise they will find that in a poem. Poetry is using language in its utmost power."
The 60-something writer would like to use her own power of words to fuel New Zealand's top rugby players.
She read somewhere that the Lions have their own poet and is quite keen to play a similar role for Richie McCaw and his men.
"The best job would be a touring poet with the All Blacks. I think that would be wonderful," Smither said.
- Taranaki Daily News
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