John Burnside has been awarded the 2023 David Cohen prize for his outstanding body of work.
John Burnside, a Scottish writer known for his poetry, memoirs, and novels, has been selected as the recipient of the 2023 David Cohen prize for literature. This prestigious award, worth £40,000, is given every two years to honor a writer’s complete body of work.
Burnside expressed feeling intimidated by the impressive list of previous winners, which includes Hilary Mantel, Colm Tóibín, Doris Lessing, and VS Naipaul.
Simultaneously, it serves as a reminder that each writer possesses a living legacy, one that is not based on fleeting trends, but rather on the enduring qualities of patience, integrity, and sincerity described by Eugenio Montale.
Burnside’s 2011 collection Black Cat Bone won both the TS Eliot and the Forward prizes, making him one of only three poets — the others being Ted Hughes and Sean O’Brien — to have won both prizes for a single book.
Burnside’s literary works consist of The Dumb House, The Devil’s Footprints, Glister, and A Summer of Drowning. He has also authored various memoirs, such as A Lie About My Father and I Put a Spell on You.
According to Hermione Lee, the chair of the judging panel and a biographer, Burnside has been a prolific writer for at least 35 years, encompassing a wide variety of genres and even some unconventional ones. Lee praises Burnside for his impressive literary breadth, adept use of language, and numerous prestigious accolades prior to this one.
“He masterfully weaves words of exquisite elegance, strength, musicality, and honesty,” Lee commented. “His writing delves into themes of grief, suffering, fear, and aggression; he is a bold and commanding author who explores the depths of the human psyche – yet he also possesses a sense of humor and profound compassion.”
Lee was joined by Aida Edemariam, Helen Mort, Malachy Tallack, and Boyd Tonkin on the judging panel.
Tonkin described Burnside’s writing as having a unique and unforgettable style, tone, and voice. In his books, Burnside delves into his darkest and most daring thoughts. The stories are set in unsettling environments and explore disturbed mental states, portrayed with a dreamlike vividness and passion.
The recipient of the David Cohen award is responsible for selecting an up-and-coming writer to receive the £10,000 Clarissa Luard prize. Burnside has designated Abigail Peters, a promising writer who is currently developing her debut book, a memoir about growing up in the fens.
After working with graduate students for 20 years, Burnside has met many who show potential in their writing. However, it is rare to come across someone who is already fully developed and confident in their abilities, while also understanding the lifelong commitment and challenges of writing. In exceptional cases, Burnside has encountered writers who possess the ability to craft narratives, navigate the complexities of memory, and depict nuanced characters and dialogue. Abigail Peters is one such writer, and Burnside is certain that her work will be read for many years to come.
after Wilhelm Lehmann
but that we have a science of learning
Although we do not possess a science dedicated to forgetting, we do have a science dedicated to learning.
at using them
Some individuals are becoming more proficient in utilizing them.
In hospice care, death is seen as a friend.
Reworded: and the distant glow of stars at the end of the hospital ward
where time has stopped, the way it sometimes stops
At the conclusion of the performance, the actors exit the stage.
It’s curious how it appears to be less of a narrative than we previously believed.
Considered, the possibility of names and dates becoming forgotten.
what we remember is only by chance
A broken pitcher near the bedside, autumn precipitation.
the white chrysanthemums a friend brought round
This morning, it was invigorating and filled with the aroma of freshly ground pepper.
of somewhere in the land that brings us home,
This leads us back to our starting point, but never invites us inside.
As if from the apocalypse.
A tribute to David Garnett.
no more knowledge
Once all the books are removed, knowledge will cease to exist.
Just one thing to recall
The light on the porch at the distant end of the street.
where something live is moving in the snow,
It is difficult to determine if it is a woman or a fox.
The final day of bird melodies; precipitation with a hint of salt in the leaves.
the echo of someone going about
Their enterprise, achieving success or taking advantage
“You can never be certain, even if you have knowledge.”
It appears that something is reaching its conclusion.
The final day of forecast, the glow of lanterns passing through the gardens.
The final tale that our family would share.
Woman transforms into a fox, and the fox transforms into a deer.
The deer disappeared into the shadows and the silence was always present.
Notes towards a Wachterlied
We have placed our trust in evening prayers for many years.
and medieval paintings where
spoke in language of
The angels, if they decided to communicate, used a specific language.
The individual did not make any statements that could suggest the involvement of a deity.
In the past, when everyone was asleep.
During harsh winter seasons like the current one,
our simple dwellings
drowsed beneath the snow, a sweet
The momentum in the distant rooms of the house.
Where there was neither recollection nor forgetting.
It is odd to wake up to this world.
The planning was so poorly executed that it resulted in a lack of success.
rain on the skylight, voices in the roof,
These beautiful angels, etched into the walls.
The name is too faint to be identified.
Even though a few of them possess wings.