What makes you write poetry? | The Economist



HAS been a good year for John Burnside. He scooped up both the Forward prize and the T.S. Eliot prize for his 12th collection of poems, “Black Cat Bone”, having been shortlisted for both twice before. Writing strange, luminous and short poems, he revels in the obscurity of the everyday. His poetry frequently captures that in-between state, “the fit between sleep and waking”.

Alongside writing poetry, he has published a novel and two memoirs (“A Lie About My Father” and “Waking Up In Toytown”). The first describes his gruelling childhood growing up in the early 1960s with a hard-drinking, abusive father in a Catholic household in sectarian Scotland; the second considers his own descent into psychosis through drugs and alcohol, before he started to write.

What makes you write poetry, and when did you start?

I started quite late in writing poetry as a serious pursuit, as opposed to playing a mildly diverting game. It seems a long time though. What makes me write is the rhythm of the world around me—the rhythms of the language, of course, but also of the land, the wind, the sky, other lives. Before the words comes the rhythm—that seems to me to be of the essence.

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