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John Burnside

Learning to Sleep
  • Learning to Sleep

  • Lucid, lyrical and intellectually profound: this collection of poems resonates with real life and death, but mostly what falls in between: the charmed darkness.

    Several ghosts haunt Learning to Sleep, John Burnside's first collection of poetry in four years - from the author's mother, commemorated in an exquisitely charged variant on the pastoral elegy, to the poet Arthur Rimbaud, who wanders an implausible Lincolnshire landscape looking for some sign of belonging. Throughout the book, the powers and dominions of a lost pagan ancestry emerge unexpectedly through the gaps in contemporary life: half-seen and fleeting, but profoundly present. Behind it all, the figure of Hypnos, the Greek god of sleep, marks Burnside's own attempts to come to terms with the severe sleep disorder from which he has suffered for years, a condition that culminated in the recent near-death experience that informs the latter part of the book. Add to this a series of provocative meditations on the ways in which we are all harmed by institutions, from organised religion, or marriage, to the tawdry concepts of gender and romantic love that subtly govern our personal lives, and Learning to Sleep reveals Burnside at his most elegiac, while still retaining a radical pagan's sense of celebration and cultural independence.

John Burnside is amongst the most acclaimed writers of his generation. His novels, short stories, poetry and memoirs have won numerous awards, including the Geoffrey Faber Memorial prize, the Whitbread Poetry Award, the Encore Award and the Saltire Scottish Book of the Year. In 2011, Black Cat Bone won both the Forward and the T.S. Eliot Prizes for poetry. A judge for the Booker prize in 2015, he is a professor in the School of English at Saint Andrews University.

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