John Burnside has won the TS Eliot prize for his poetry collection Black Cat Bone. Photograph: Murdo Macleod
Scottish poet’s Black Cat Bone beats strong shortlist in contest mired in protest over City funding.
By Maev Kennedy
The Scottish poet John Burnside has won the most controversial TS Eliot poetry prize in years, for a collection described as “haunting”, after two of the original shortlisted poets dropped out in protest over funding from the hedge fund Aurum.
Burnside, a former winner of the Whitbread poetry prize, took the £15,000 prize for his 11th collection, Black Cat Bone. He beat a notably strong surviving list, including the poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy; Sean O’Brien, for his first collection since winning both the TS Eliot and the Forward prizes in 2008; and David Harsent, also a previous Forward winner.
The Welsh poet Gillian Clarke, chair of the judges, said: “Amongst an unprecedentedly strong and unusually well-received shortlist, 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.”
Burnside was presented with the cheque by Valerie Eliot, widow of the poet, at a ceremony in London. She has funded the prize itself since it was launched 18 years ago but the Poetry Society, which organises the competition, will lose all its Arts Council grant this year, and its search for replacement funding proved bitterly divisive.
The three-year sponsorship deal from Aurum was announced at the same time as the shortlist – at the height of the Occupy London protests, when protests were also swelling about the Tate and other major museums and galleries accepting sponsorship from the oil group BP.