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.
If genius is operating anywhere in English poetry at present, I feel it is here, in Burnside's singular music
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
A stunningly good writer of poetry and fiction
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
Burnside has a stillness and emotional restraint, a respect for the observer and observed alike which is serious, exemplary and rare