John Burnside

John Burnside, who has died at the age of 69, contributed many poems to the LRB over the past thirty years. 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 taught at St Andrews. He also wrote several novels, two collections of short stories and three books of memoir, parts of which were first published in the paper.


John Burnside, 4 July 2024

Notes towards a Devotio Moderna


As if there was a sky where we couldpause a while, like medievalpilgrims, we are patient to the last

and have no thought of After, or the godsthat might have been: the green amidst the black,the changelings, or the newly resurrected.

Unlike the saints, we have no usefor angels, all thatbright dust floating down

from worlds we have no reason to pursue;though...

Poem: ‘The Persistence of Memory’

John Burnside, 20 June 2024

Out in the field where, once,we played Dead Man’s Fall,

the others are being calledthrough the evening dusk

– Kenny and Marek, the Corrigans, Alex McClure –mothers and sisters calling them home for tea

from kitchens fogged with steam and buttered toast,broth on the hot plate, ham hough and yellow lentils.

Barely a wave, then they’re gone, till no one is left,and the dark...

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,...

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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