John Burnside

John Burnside teaches at St Andrews. His poetry collections include Feast Days (1992), The Asylum Dance (2000) and Black Cat Bone (2011), which won both the Forward Prize and the T.S. Eliot Prize. He has also written several novels, two collections of short stories and three books of memoir, parts of which were first published in the LRB.

Two Poems

John Burnside, 21 March 2024

Love Story

Samarkand never was, though there wereverses in the book that spokeof lacquerware and lapis lazuli,the beauty of our goods, delayed for monthsat Kandahar or Minsk, the horsesdreaming in the dark behindtheir blinkers, nightlongcaravans abroad beneath the sky.

I stood out in the road, by Brewster’s Yard,and waited for a ghost, since ghosts were true,a pair of Clydesdales pressing...

Poem: ‘A False Awakening’

John Burnside, 27 July 2023

Only the minor gods have ventured outthis morning: delicateand silken, with a gift for mimicry,they do not stoop to punish, or forgive,though, sometimes, they are capableof blessing.

I wake at dawn, but not to what I knowof Nineveh: a quinqueremein abstract, certain huesof cardamon, or tradescantia;

a siege of herons; razorfish in shoals;cat snake and vipertracked across the flooror hidden in the...

Poem: ‘Wulf-monath’

John Burnside, 30 March 2023

A wintering;                          and everything we knowis hearsay: ravens

picking at a blood-knot in the snow, the villagelost, two miles away, the roads

impassable.       All summer,there were others in the house

disguised as children, charmless, ravening,but clothed, as children are,

in swansdown,...

Poem: ‘Apostasy’

John Burnside, 12 May 2022

Psalm 139:23

At one time,when there might have been a God,everything vaguelyconvent, dovesand serpents in the Treeof Knowledge, gospelwhispered down the galleriesof rain,

I would have been awake for almostnothing in this perishable world,only a drift of rose, or cardamine,along the backroad home, wind in the trees,the angel half-revealed, improbable,lighting the hedge like a flamein the greenof...

Two Poems

John Burnside, 1 July 2021


(In memoriam J.P.)

Morning in lockdown. Shadows in the yard,Quink-blue and graduallyshifting, like those eels we used to seeabove the weir, thickwhipcords of lustand instinct, surgingheadlong through the mystery of grass.Forty years on, but all I have to dois close my eyes to see youcycling to Cherry Hinton in that dust-greyskirt you used to wear, the dawn lightfollowing the river back to...

What He Could Bear: A Brutal Childhood

Hilary Mantel, 9 March 2006

The lie is told to a man he meets on the road; it is America, fall, the mid-1990s, when he stops to pick up a hitch-hiker in Upper New York State. It is almost the day of the dead, and he is tired,...

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War against the Grown-Ups

John Redmond, 21 August 1997

A recent newspaper story told of a young man who went to hospital, seeking attention for stomach pains. Expecting to find some sort of cyst, the doctors opened him up. What they removed instead...

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Uncertainties of the Poet

Nicolas Tredell, 25 June 1992

‘Fin de siècle’: the term suggests a dilution and dispersal of the cultural, social and political energies of a century, an uneasy time of uncertainties as a new era waits to be...

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Imagining the Suburbs

Stan Smith, 9 January 1992

Whole systems of thought have been founded on the French language’s inability to distinguish differing from deferring. Perhaps Napoleon is to blame (‘Not tonight, Josephine’)....

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