Book review: The Hunt in the Forest by John Burnside

I came across this poetry collection by chance the day after Burnside was awarded the T S Eliot poetry prize in January this year.  Although I rarely read poetry, I was curious.

The collection examines our pursuits, be they love, memory, the self, even death.  We hunt for these things in life yet so often, just as we think they are within our grasp, they elude us.  For me, this is what Burnside’s poetry does.  It takes us on a chase, we are about to capture our quarry, yet it escapes from us and we discover that nothing is as we thought.  His poetry is simultaneously simple and enigmatic.  We think we understand, meaning is within our reach, but all is not what it seems and we are challenged to rethink our assumptions.  I found the poetry absorbing and beautiful, with strong and poignant images.

the puzzlement of cattle, staring back

across a sodden gatepost, or the stranger’s

lipstick on a cup, mid-afternoon,

when you’re halfway through washing up

and alone for a lifetime.



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