Christopher Reid, a former Hull University lecturer now living in London, won the award for his collection A Scattering, including four poems, the first of which was written during her final illness and the other three at intervals after her death in 2005.
Reid, 61, was married to the actress Lucinda Gane, who many people will remember as the science teacher Miss Mooney in Grange Hill. They were married for 28 years and his book is a celebration of their life together as well as an elegy for her.
It opens with a sequence – which his wife read and loved – of their last holiday in Crete as he grapples with the fear of what lies ahead. The book then depicts scenes from the final weeks of her illness, his attempts to pick up the threads of his life, and to put into words what she meant to him.
All the more effective for their lack of self-pity, the poems chart his jolting realisations of her passing before coming to a quiet sense of gratitude.
In one of the final poems, Reid passes the hospital to which his wife had donated her body for research. "That's where my dead wife lives," he thinks. "I hope they are treating her kindly."
When he won the poetry category of the prize earlier this month – he'd been shortlisted for it twice before – Reid admitted to having mixed emotions. "It's complex given what's happened," he said. "But at this precise minute, I'm feeling pleased."
"Out of a personal tragedy, Christopher Reid has written a beautiful and moving masterwork," chair of the judges Josephine Hart last night.
"We all felt this was a book we would want everyone to read. It's packed full of unforgettable lines – a truly remarkable book."