Paul Muldoon was shovelling snow when his publisher called.
Winning the 2003 Pulitzer prize for poetry came "as a complete shock and surprise and is a terrific honour", said the Princeton University professor of humanities and Oxford University professor of poetry.
The prize was awarded for Moy Sand and Gravel, his 25th volume of poetry and the ninth collection of his poems. The work takes readers from Muldoon's native Ireland in the 1950s to present-day New Jersey, where he lives now. Publishers Weekly said Muldoon was "one of the English-speaking world's most acclaimed poets still at the top of his slippery, virtuosic game".
He began writing poetry at 17, at first in Irish, although he gave that up when he arrived at Queen's University, Belfast, in 1969 fearing that he lacked a real command of the language. Seamus Heaney was his tutor, and Muldoon got his first volume, New Weather, published by Faber and Faber while he was still a student.
Moy Sand and Gravel was recently shortlisted for the international Griffin Prize for Excellence in Poetry and was the Poetry Book Society's choice for best book of poems published in the winter of 2002.
"It's certainly well-deserved," said the poet C. K. Williams, who is also on Princeton's creative writing faculty and a Pulitzer prizewinner. "He's a unique poet. The fact that he wins prizes on both sides of the Atlantic is great proof of that uniqueness - he's valued as much in the UK and Ireland as he is here."
Edmund White, director of Princeton's creative writing programme, said Muldoon was a world-class poet. "His poetry is a record of his interest both in American and Irish dialects. He is a spirited, playful, encouraging teacher, and those are all qualities that derive from his poetry."
Four years ago, Muldoon was elected professor of poetry at Oxford, an honorary position that involves giving three lectures a year for five years.