Former drug addict wins prestigious poetry prize

John Burnside beats strong field to take T S Eliot award at third try with haunting collection 'Black Cat Bone'

A celebrated poet who has documented his battle with alcoholism and drugs saw off competition from a heavyweight shortlist including laureate Carol Ann Duffy to win the highest accolade in British poetry at the third time of asking.

The Poetry Book Society last night awarded Scottish poet John Burnside the £15,000 T S Eliot Prize for his collection Black Cat Bone, just three months after he won the £10,000 Forward Prize for the same work.

The T S Eliot Prize for Poetry, which is in its 19th year, was called the "prize most poets want to win" by former Poet Laureate Andrew Motion, and previous winners include Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney. Burnside had previously been shortlisted for the award in 2000 for The Asylum Dance, and then two years later for The Light Trap.

Yet the prize has been mired in controversy this year after two shortlisted poets pulled out in protest over the choice of sponsor. Alice Oswald and John Kinsella both withdrew from the competition over the involvement of investment company Aurum Funds.

The Society announced Aurum's three-year sponsorship last year, following news that it would lose all funding from the Arts Council. Oswald, who won the Prize in 2002, withdrew in December saying she was "uncomfortable" with the sponsorship by a company that invests in hedge funds.

Kinsella followed, saying the "business of Aurum does not sit with my personal politics and ethics". Desmond Clarke, vice-chair of the Poetry Book Society, called the decision to withdraw "misguided".

Burnside's victory was announced last night at the Haberdashers' Hall in London. Gillian Clarke, who became National Poet for Wales in 2008 and chaired the judging panel, said: "In an exceptional year, it is an outstanding book; one which the judges felt grew with every reading." She said Black Cat Bone was "a haunting book of great beauty, powered by love, childhood memory, human longing and loneliness". Burnside deals with his addiction to drugs in the volume – a subject he has written about before, saying he was a "full-scale lunatic".

The judges chose Burnside's work from what it termed an eight-strong "star-studded" shortlist which included Carol Ann Duffy's The Bees, and Sean O'Brien, winner of the prize in 2007.

Burnside left Scotland in 1965 and worked as a factory hand, labourer and gardener, but it was during the decade spent as a computer systems designer that his life unravelled.

His first collection of poetry, The Hoop, was published in 1988. He won the Whitbread Poetry Award in 2000 for The Asylum Dance.

He now teaches at the University of St Andrews and has written short stories, novels and two memoirs. His novel A Summer of Drowning was shortlisted for the Costa best novel award earlier this year.

T S Eliot, whose celebrated works include The Wasteland and The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock, set up the Poetry Book Society with friends in 1953.

A prize in his honour was established in 1993. Valerie Eliot, the poet's widow, and his estate have provided the prize money since the awards have started.

Extract: Black Cat Bone

No more conversations.

No more wedlock.

No more vein of perfume in a scarf

I haven't worn for months, her voice come back

to haunt me, and the Hundertwasser sky

Magnificat to how a jilted heart

refuses what it once mistook for mercy.

It's never what we wanted, everafter;

we asked for something else, a lifelong Reich

of unexpected gifts and dolce vita,

peach–blossom smudging the glass and a seasoned

glimmer of the old days in this house

where, every night, we tried and failed to mend

that feathered thing we brought in from the yard,

after it came to grief on our picture window.

From 'Black Cat Bone', published by Jonathan Cape'

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Kathy (Sally Lindsay) in Ordinary Lies
tvReview: The seemingly dull Kathy proves her life is anything but a snoozefest
Arts and Entertainment

Listen to his collaboration with Naughty Boy

music
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig in a scene from ‘Spectre’, released in the UK on 23 October

film
Arts and Entertainment
Cassetteboy's latest video is called Emperor's New Clothes rap

film
Arts and Entertainment

Poldark review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Katie Brayben is nominated for Best Actress in a Musical for her role as Carole King in Beautiful

film
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

    The masterminds behind the election

    How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
    Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

    Machine Gun America

    The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
    The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

    The ethics of pet food

    Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?
    How Tansy Davies turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    How a composer turned 9/11 into her opera 'Between Worlds'

    Tansy Davies makes her operatic debut with a work about the attack on the Twin Towers. Despite the topic, she says it is a life-affirming piece
    11 best bedside tables

    11 best bedside tables

    It could be the first thing you see in the morning, so make it work for you. We find night stands, tables and cabinets to wake up to
    Italy vs England player ratings: Did Andros Townsend's goal see him beat Harry Kane and Wayne Rooney to top marks?

    Italy vs England player ratings

    Did Townsend's goal see him beat Kane and Rooney to top marks?
    Danny Higginbotham: An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    An underdog's tale of making the most of it

    Danny Higginbotham on being let go by Manchester United, annoying Gordon Strachan, utilising his talents to the full at Stoke and plunging into the world of analysis
    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police

    Steve Bunce: Inside Boxing

    Audley Harrison's abusers forget the debt he's due, but Errol Christie will always remember what he owes the police
    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat