John Burnside: 2023

I have to say that, considering the list of previous winners, being added to such a company is more than a little daunting. At the same time, it’s a reminder that every writer is gifted with a live tradition and that tradition is rooted, not in mere fashions and fads, but in what Eugenio Montale called, with characteristic succinctness, the “long patience, conscience and honesty” of those who precede us.

John Burnside was born in West Fife in 1955 but moved, ten years later, to the East Midlands, where his father was employed at Corby steelworks. After a somewhat desultory education, he drifted for several years through a variety of jobs, from peanut fryer to gardener to kitchen porter, before settling in Surrey, where he was gainfully employed for over a decade as a computer systems designer. He now teaches creative writing and ecocriticism at the University of St Andrews.

His fourteen books of poetry include Black Cat Bone, which won both the T.S. Eliot and the Forward Prizes in 2011 and, most recently, Ruin, Blossom, which will appear in April 2024. Amongst his prose work are the novels, Glister and A Summer of Drowning, three memoirs, of which the most recent is I Put A Spell On You and The Music of Time, a personal history of twentieth century poetry which was a Financial Times Book of the Year in 2019. For as long as he has been writing, his work has concerned itself with the environment; he has written regularly on nature for the New Statesman and his last prose work was a meditation on extinction and mortality entitled Aurochs and Auks. His radio work has explored Sami music and culture, near-death experiences and the landscape and history of the Orkney islands.