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John Burnside wins T.S. Eliot Prize

17th January 2012

John Burnside has scooped one of the most controversial T.S. Eliot Prizes in decades for the acclaimed collection Black Cat Bone, following up his Forward Poetry Prize victory in October.

He beat off a strong shortlist of authors to claim the prize, including current poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy, though in the end Burnside was only in competition with seven other writers after two withdrew over their objection to the award's new sponsor.

Alice Oswald and John Kinsella had been nominated for Memorial and Armour, respectively, but withdrew from contention in protest at the prize being sponsored by hedge fund investor Aurum Funds.

Nonetheless, Gillian Clarke, chair of the judges, described the shortlist as 'unprecedentedly strong and unusually well-received' and heaped praise on Burnside's collection.

'John Burnside's Black Cat Bone is a haunting book of great beauty, powered by love, childhood memory, human longing and loneliness. In an exceptional year, it is an outstanding book, one which the judges felt grew with every reading,' she commented.

Clarke also defended the selection of Aurum Funds as the new sponsor, blaming the Arts Council's decision to cease its funding of the prize and claiming the award is now 'taking from the rich and giving it to a poet and the reader'.

Eliot's widow Valerie remains the single biggest funder of the award and presented Burnside with the GBP 15,000 prize during a ceremony at Haberdashers' Hall in London.

Burnside said he was 'surprised and stunned' to receive the prize and revealed he never even considered withdrawing from the award.

'I'm sure Eliot wouldn't have felt he wanted to withdraw from a situation where an organisation which made money in a legitimate way supported the arts,' he added.

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