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
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

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

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

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

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power