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Gift Songs (Cape Poetry) [Paperback]

John Burnside
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
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Book Description

1 Mar 2007 Cape Poetry

To the Shakers, a good song was a gift; indeed the test of a song's goodness was how much of a gift it was. In their call to 'labour to make the way of God your own', Shaker artists expressed an aesthetic that had much in common with the old Japanese notion, attributed to Hokusai, that to paint bamboo, one had first to become bamboo.

In his tenth collection, John Burnside begins with an interrogation of the gift song, treating matters of faith and connection, the community of living creatures and the idea of a free church - where faith is placed, not in dogma or a possible credo, but in the indefinable - and moves on through explorations of time and place, towards a tentative and idiosyncratic re-ligere, the beginnings of a renewal of the connection to, and faith in, an ordered world.

The book closes with a series of meditations on place, entitled 'Four Quartets', intended both as a spiritual response to the string quartets of Bartók and Britten (as Eliot's were to Beethoven's late quartets), and as an experiment in the poetic form that the finest of poets, the true miglior fabbro, chose as a medium for his own declaration of faith. The poems in this collection are true gifts: thrillingly beautiful, charged with power and mystery, each imbued with the generous skills of a master of his craft.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 112 pages
  • Publisher: Jonathan Cape (1 Mar 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0224079972
  • ISBN-13: 978-0224079976
  • Product Dimensions: 13.3 x 20.3 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 267,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


"If genius is operating anywhere in English poetry at present, I feel it is here, in Burnside's singular music" (Adam Thorpe Observer)

"I love the way John Burnside looks at the world. He doesn't just look: he watches. He sees into secret spaces that lie somewhere between the hidden and the revealed... [He] crafts a poetry as precise in its detail, as subtle in its perceptions, as respectful in its attentions as the blade of a brain surgeon's scalpel" (Rachel Campbell-Johnston The Times)

"A stunningly good writer of poetry and fiction" (Christina Patterson Independent)

"The new appearance of a collection of John Burnside's poems is now an event... His has become a voice we rely on; he is a shaman-cum-seer who finds a lucid magic in the ordinary, a life of implication in passing moments, an X-ray truth, an inner light in our daily lives" (Tom Adair Scotland on Sunday)

"Burnside has a stillness and emotional restraint, a respect for the observer and observed alike which is serious, exemplary and rare" (Times Literary Supplement)

Book Description

A masterful tenth collection from the winner of the 2000 Whitbread Poetry Award.

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Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
3.7 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterpiece 1 Mar 2007
I've only had this book in my possession for a few hours, but after a few skim-readings, it seems to me that John Burnside has excelled himself yet again with this collection. He's previously hit the heights with the justifiably celebrated Asylum Dance which won the Whitbread, and its marvellous follow-up, The Light Trap, which, for me was even better. Gift Songs is another masterpiece; poetry like this lifts off the page and into the breath,and the morning light.
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4.0 out of 5 stars A nice read 13 Oct 2011
A very pleasant read. Like other of Burns' writings, it has this nostalgic, childhood-reminiscing feel, but in a language that is deep and simply meaningful. Very nice read, better than your average poetry collection book, although not Burns' best.
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0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Pious, picturesque pea-sticks 8 Aug 2011
This is just theology - autrement dit, talking to oneself in the dark. Actually, when he's concrete he's better (Marginal Jottings on the Prospect of Dying - nice title, too). Advice to poets: Fuyez le poétique!

Maybe a poem about a pig in a slaughterhouse - 'the scent of beasts'(p45) indeed - would help focus Burnside away from his metaphysical maundering: has a whole bunch. Or how about this, The Rest of the Cow, from Angelino David Shook?

Its body in the butcher shop, its
tongue, too. Its mouth an empty
home papered in cud.
The butcher's dog will eat
its heart, relish its saltiness, the
heart that beat like a trout
fresh on the floor of a boat
as the knife approached its neck.
Which of its seven stomachs
tensed first, which will make
the least bitter stew?

And I might have known Chesterton would rear his fat head. Was Burnside raised Catholic, by any chance? Best poem in the book the Hallowe'en ('pagan') poem Guising; best lines, by far, 'the venom/of Eminem' (from Le Croisic)

Further advice to poets: the terms god and soul should only be used 'as part of a balanced diet' until a roomful of people can agree on what, if anything, they mean. I'd veto (or severely ration) spiritual too, as a thoroughly bogus locution that means scarcely more than sentient. The blurb calls the concluding sequence 'a spiritual response to the string quartets of Bartok and Britten'; how would that differ from an ordinary response, then? We aren't 'spirit', we're meat that isn't, at present, rotten. Come to think of it, perhaps being eaten would be the nobler part, if only it didn't involve being killed first

PS Burnside writes a pretty lame memoir too, judging by the sad little 'slice of life' in the LRB of 2 June. Wider horizons! more fire! less navel-gazing!
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