John Burnside

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Rating: 4.33

John Burnside Poems


As cats bring their smiling
mouse-kills and hypnotised birds,
slinking home under the light
of a summer's morning


It’s moments like this
when the barman goes through the back
and leaves me alone


To prove that nothing
really disappears
and nothing comes of nothing,
days like these

My whole world is all you refuse:
a black light, angelic and cold
on the path to the orchard,
fox-runs and clouded lanes and the glitter of webbing,

If summer is conversation,
then winter is thought;
or so it seems tonight: rain in the trees
and, halfway between our house

I dream of the silence
the day before Adam came
to name the animals,

No one invents an absence:
Cadmium yellow, duckweed, the capercaillie
- see how the hand we would name restrains itself
till all our stories end in monochrome;

It never switches off; even asleep
We listen in to gravity itself.
Crossing a field is one long exercise
in equilibrium - a player’s grace -

If the house in a dream
Is how I imagine myself:
room after room
of furniture no one could use;

Behind faces and gestures
We remain mute
And spoken words heavy
With what we ignore or keep silent

Nothing is as it was
in childhood, when we had to learn the names
of objects and colours,

John Burnside Biography

John Burnsideis a Scottish writer, born in Dunfermline. He is one of only two poets (the other being Sean O'Brien) to have won both the T. S. Eliot Prize and the Forward Poetry Prize for the same book (Black Cat Bone). Life and Works Burnside studied English and European Languages at Cambridge College of Arts and Technology. A former computer software engineer, he has been a freelance writer since 1996. He is a former Writer in Residence at the University of Dundee and is now Professor in Creative Writing, Literature and Ecology at St Andrews University. His first collection of poetry, The Hoop, was published in 1988 and won a Scottish Arts Council Book Award. Other poetry collections include Common Knowledge (1991), Feast Days (1992), winner of the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, and The Asylum Dance (2000), winner of the Whitbread Poetry Award and shortlisted for both the Forward Poetry Prize (Best Poetry Collection of the Year) and the T. S. Eliot Prize. The Light Trap (2001) was also shortlisted for the T. S. Eliot Prize. Burnside is also the author of a collection of short stories, Burning Elvis (2000), and several novels, including The Dumb House (1997), The Mercy Boys (1999) (winner of the Encore Award) and The Locust Room (2001), which is set in Cambridge in 1975, and explores the consequences of a series of violent rapes. His poetry collection, The Good Neighbour (2005), was shortlisted for the 2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection). He also writes a column for The Guardian newspaper. Burnside was a judge of the 2007 Griffin Poetry Prize. He is a member of the judging panel for the 2011 Manchester Fiction Prize, and has the same year been honoured the Petrarca-Preis, a major German international literary prize. Burnside's work is inspired by his deep engagement with nature, environment and ecology. He lives with his wife and two sons in east Fife, whilst his daughter lives in London. Awards 1988 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, for The Hoop 1991 Scottish Arts Council Book Award, for Common Knowledge 1994 Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize, for Feast Days 1999 Encore Award for The Mercy Boys 2000 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection – shortlist), for The Asylum Dance 2000 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), for The Asylum Dance 2000 Whitbread Book Award, Poetry Award, for The Asylum Dance 2002 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award (shortlist), for The Light Trap 2002 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), for The Light Trap 2005 Forward Poetry Prize (Best Collection - shortlist), for The Good Neighbour 2006 Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award for A Lie About My Father 2008 Catherine Maclean Prize (shortlist) for The Devil's Footprints 2008 Cholmondeley Award 2011 Petrarca-Preis 2011 PEN/Ackerley prize (shortlist) for Waking Up in Toytown 2011 Corine Literature Prize for A Lie About My Father 2011 Forward Prize for Black Cat Bone 2011 Costa Book Awards (Novel), shortlist, A Summer of Drowning 2011 T. S. Eliot Prize for Black Cat Bone)

The Best Poem Of John Burnside


As cats bring their smiling
mouse-kills and hypnotised birds,
slinking home under the light
of a summer's morning
to offer the gift of a corpse,

you carry home the snake you thought
was sunning itself on a rock
at the river's edge:
sun-fretted, gracile,
it shimmies and sways in your hands
like a muscle of light,
and you gather it up like a braid
for my admiration.

I can't shake the old wife's tale
that snakes never die,
they hang in a seamless dream
of frogskin and water,
preserving a ribbon of heat
in a bone or a vein,
a cold-blooded creature's
promise of resurrection,

and I'm amazed to see you shuffle off
the woman I've know for years,
tracing the lithe, hard body, the hinge of the jaw,
the tension where sex might be, that I always assume
is neuter, when I walk our muffled house
at nightfall, throwing switches, locking doors.

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