John Burnside

John Burnside square

John Burnside (b. 1955 Dunfermline) describes his Catholic childhood in Corby as solitary: ‘Reading poetry was probably the only real education I had in anything.’ Poetry, he says, is ‘a defence of care over the language, its richness, its subtleties, its possibilities’. He believes that ‘if we keep reading poetry, and so educating ourselves in metaphor, we can see through and scoff at the deceptive myths peddled by certain politicians and salespeople.’

He became a writer while working as a software engineer. His novels, memoirs and poems have won many awards and his 2011 collection Black Cat Bone won both the Forward Prize and the T S Eliot Prize.

All One Breath, his thirteenth poetry collection, was inspired by Ecclesiastes: ‘For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts… yea, they have all one breath.’ Our kinship with all living things is a matter, he maintains, for awe.

His advice to would-be poets: ‘Do it for love. Listen to music. Read the classics, read your contemporaries, get advice from other readers, read in translation. Read, read, read.’