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John Burnside Wins T S Eliot Prize (But Not Without Controversy)

John Burnside

These days it seems you can’t have a high profile poetry prize or appointment without some attendant, no, prerequisite brouhaha. So, of course, the T S Eliot Prize gets to have its very own in the shape of two poets – Alice Oswald and John Kinsella – withdrawing their entries from the prize because it has been funded by a hedge fund Aurum.

The three year sponsorship with Aurum came in the wake of a 100% cut to funding by the Arts Council, forcing the Poetry Book Society, who manages the prize, to seek money elsewhere.

I’ll stick my neck out a bit by wondering how much Aurum can be “at the pointy end of capitalism” as Kinsella puts it, if it’s willing to fund poetry and the arts in general. Granted, Aurum no doubt has its own not so altruistic agenda in wanting to fund prize but where else could the money have come from?

Even more controversially, the news of Burnside’s win has yet to make it to the Poetry Book Society’s own website yet it’s on Guardian’s website and has even made it as far as the Chicago Tribune’s. I’m jesting of course when I say this is controversial but is this indicative of the PBS’ straitened circumstances?

Even more – gasp – controversially, the title of Burnside’s winning collection, Black Cat Bone is very close to the title of a poem I wrote some years ago called Black Dog Bone. Both the title of his collection and my poem are inspired by Vodoun. I’m aware this means something only to me but I’d hate to be accused of plagiarism!


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