John Burnside

(19 March 1955 - / Dunfermline, Scotland)

Biography of John Burnside

John Burnside poet

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.


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

John Burnside's Works:

Poetry Collections

The Broon Hoop (Carcanet, 1988)
Common Knowledge (Secker and Warburg, London, 1991)
Feast Days (Secker and Warburg, London, 1992)
The Myth of the Twin (Jonathan Cape, London, 1995)
Swimming in the Flood (Jonathan Cape, London, 1995)
Penguin Modern Poets (Penguin, 1996)
A Normal Skin (Jonathan Cape, London, 1997)
The Asylum Dance (Jonathan Cape, London, 2000)
The Light Trap (Jonathan Cape, London, 2002)
Wild Reckoning (Gulbenkian, 2004), joint editor with Maurice Riordan of this anthology of ecology-related poems
The Good Neighbour (Jonathan Cape, 2005)
Selected Poems (Jonathan Cape, 2006)
Gift Songs (Jonathan Cape, 2007)
The Hunt in the Forest (Jonathan Cape, 2009)
Black Cat Bone (Jonathan Cape, September 2009)


The Dumb House (Jonathan Cape, London, 1997)
The Mercy Boys (Jonathan Cape, London, 1999)
Burning Elvis (Jonathan Cape, London, 2000)
The Locust Room (Jonathan Cape, London, 2001)
Living Nowhere (Jonathan Cape, London, 2003)
The Devil's Footprints (Jonathan Cape, 2007)
Glister (Jonathan Cape, 2008)
A Summer of Drowning (Jonathan Cape, 2011)


A Lie About My Father (Biography,2006)
Wallace Stevens : poems / selected by John Burnside (Poet to Poet Series, Faber and Faber, 2008)
Waking up in Toytown (Biography, Jonathan Cape, 2010)


Dice (with A. L. Kennedy), a series for television, produced by Cité-Amérique, Canada

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after John Nash

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

and yet the eye can navigate a field,
loving the way a random stook of corn
is orphaned

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