A Winter Mind

John Burnside

As a teenager, I spent many hours in the section of the library where the art books were kept, partly to be out of the house and away from where anyone might track me down, and partly because I was searching for an ideal of cleanness, a personal Elysium. It probably goes without saying that Corby reference library had a rather limited collection of art books, and in many of those it did possess, the reproductions were blurred and sun-faded, approximations of an original theme, folded into a faint mustiness like the illustrations in wartime children’s annuals. Still, I was an uncritical child, easily haunted by images, and some of those I found in that place have stayed with me ever since, shaping the geography of my imagination. There were Bible scenes, which I skipped, and frequent nudes, which I lingered over briefly before turning the page, the faint whiff of the presbytery at my back. My main reason for being in the library, however, and the pictures I loved more than any others, were Dutch and Flemish landscapes. I could go around for days with a big sky over flat, empty fields running on in my mind’s eye and there were nights when my average 15-year-old’s dream life was conducted in a maze of red-brick courtyards and canals.

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