Lucid, tender, and strangely troubling, the poems in The Asylum Dance - which won the Whitbread Prize for Poetry - are hymns to the tension between the sanctuary of home and the lure of escape. This is territory that Burnside has made his own: a domestic world threaded through with myth and longing, beyond which lies a no man's land - the 'somewhere in between' - of dusk or dawn, of mists or sudden light, where the epiphanies are.
Using the framework of four long poems, 'Ports', 'Settlements', 'Fields' and 'Roads', the poet balances presence with absence; we are shown the homing instinct - felt in the blood and marrow - as a pull to refuge, simplicity, and a safe haven, while at the same time hearing the siren call from the world beyond: the thrilling expectancy of fairground or dancehall, the possibilities of the open road. With a confident open line and complete command of the language, John Burnside writes with grace, agility and profound philosophical purpose, confirming his position in the front rank of contemporary poetry.
If genius is operating anywhere in English poetry at present, I feel it is here, in Burnside's singular music
A poet of rare and extraordinary talent
Lyrical beauty, emotional charge and unforced clarity of form... His poems are acts of revelation
Burnside has a stillness and emotional restraint, a respect for the observer and observed alike which is serious, exemplary and rare
Burnside's vision is of another, sacred, fragile world that co-exists with our own dailiness: his gift is the ability, through poems of a rare and exquisite precision of language, to let his reader glimpse it