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Gift Songs (Cape Poetry)
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Price:£7.99

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12 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on 1 March 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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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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on 27 February 2015
Pleased with purchase
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1 of 6 people found the following review helpful
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: Porkopolis.org 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 reared a 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)

More advice to poets: the terms god and soul should only be used 'as part of a balanced diet' until a busload of people can agree on what, if anything, they might 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 pens 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!

PPS Yet his regular New Statesman contributions from Oct 2011 on broadly ecological themes are startlingly good. What's going on?
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