Poet UA Fanthorpe has been awarded the 2003 Queen's Gold Medal for Poetry.
The award was judged by poet laureate Andrew Motion
Miss Fanthorpe was head of English at Cheltenham Ladies College for 16 years before she began to write.
After changing career and becoming a receptionist in a Bristol neuro-psychiatric hospital she was inspired to take up poetry.
Awarded on William Shakespeare's birthday - April 23 - the medal is judged by a committee headed by Poet Laureate Andrew Motion.
Miss Fanthorpe, who was born in Kent in 1929, was educated in Surrey and at Oxford and now lives in Gloucestershire.
Her eight collections of poems are widely acclaimed and her next publication, Queuing For The Sun, is due out in July.
Last year, she was a member of the judging panel for the Queen's Golden Jubilee Poetry Competition.
The Gold Medal for Poetry was instituted by King George V in 1933 at the suggestion of the then Poet Laureate, Dr John Masefield.
Previous recipients of the medal include WH Auden (1936), Siegfried Sassoon (1957), John Betjeman (1960), Philip Larkin (1965), Ted Hughes (1974) and last year's winner, Peter Porter.