John Burnside: poetry as the space of withdrawal

Brewster, Scott (2013) John Burnside: poetry as the space of withdrawal. In: Poetry and Geography: Space and Place in Post-War Poetry. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, pp. 178-189. ISBN 97818463186141

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John Burnside: poetry as the space of withdrawal

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Abstract

John Burnside has remarked that ‘[o]ur response to the world is essentially one of wonder’, and he approaches the mysteries of the phenomenal world with both awed fascination and forensic scrutiny. His work exhibits an explicit concern with ecology, including his anthology Wild Reckoning (2004), co-edited with Maurice Riordan, which celebrated the fortieth anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. This concern with the eco-, the connection between things, is fundamental to Burnside’s lyric poetics. The typical Burnside poem at once resists and surrenders itself to the fleeting, half-hidden and transfiguring encounter with a wilderness indifferent to human intrusion, or with the liminal, weed-strewn waste grounds of suburbia. His poetry and prose have shown a deepening fascination with the ethics of withdrawal and (self)obliteration, and how this might be reconciled with responsibilities to family, to others (human and non-human) and to the environment. The retreat into invisibility, the relinquishing of any damaging, proprietorial relation to the natural world may acknowledge human limitation, which Christopher Manes argues is the first step ‘in our attempt to reestablish communication with nature’,1 but the momentary, uncertain opening-out of the lyric experience is at once an act of welcome and an act of exposure. The poem cannot help but mark out territory, cannot remain in its contemplative darkness. Donald Worster has claimed that ‘[w]e are facing a global crisis today, not because of how ecosystems function but rather because of how our ethical systems function’.2 This essay will examine the ethical challenge faced by the modern poet who attempts to think the natural world ‘relationally’ and in an ‘utterly grounded’3 fashion through the singularity of the lyric mode.

Keywords:John Burnside, contemporary poetry, Ecocriticism, Lyric poetry, The poematic
Subjects:Q Linguistics, Classics and related subjects > Q320 English Literature
Divisions:College of Arts > School of English & Journalism > School of English & Journalism (English)
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ID Code:14963
Deposited On:18 Sep 2014 07:46

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