John Burnside finally wins Forward poetry prize

Shortlisted on three previous occasions, the Scottish poet takes the £10,000 honour at last

After being merely shortlisted in 2000, 2005 and 2007, there was a pleasing sense of "about time" to the news that John Burnside has finally won the Forward poetry prize for best collection.

The Scottish poet was handed the £10,000 award at a ceremony in London on Wednesday evening, triumphing over a shortlist that the prize's founder William Sieghart said was "one of the finest" in its 20-year history.

Andrew Motion, who chaired this year's judges, said Burnside's winning collection, Black Cat Bone, was both "a very direct and a very subtle book." The former poet laureate added: "There's no doubting its big themes – of mortality, transience and various kinds of catastrophe – but they are handled in a way that rightly allows their menace to seem insidious as well as brutal. This makes the book one to linger over, as well as one to enjoy at first reading."

Burnside, whose reputation as a poet tends towards the numimous, has said the collection, which tackles issues of love, faith and hope, was something of a change for him. In a Guardian interview earlier this year, he said: "I realised I'd spent a lot of time in my poetry trying to find a way of talking about that whereof we cannot speak. This new book is about things that nobody can deny."

No longer the poet shortlisted most often without winning, Burnside beat collections from the Oxford professor of poetry Geoffrey Hill, David Harsent, Michael Longley, D Nurkse and three-time winner Sean O'Brien.

Other winners at the prizegiving ceremony at Somerset House were the late RF Langley for best single poem, and Rachael Boast for best first collection.

Langley, who died in January at the age of 72, won for his poem "To a Nightingale", which was published by the London Review of Books and praised by judges as "a masterclass in precision".

Motion said: "It strikes a balance that characterises the best nature writing: it makes us feel a part of what it presents, while at the same time reminding us how separate we are from it."

Boast's collection Sidereal – also longlisted for this year's Guardian First Book Award – wins the poet £5,000 and was praised by Motion as "one of the most complete and accomplished first collections to have appeared in several years".

The poet, who was born in Suffolk in 1975, has recently completed her PhD in creative writing at St Andrews, where fellow winner Burnside is professor in creative writing.

The awards were presented on the eve of National Poetry Day, and decided by a judging panel that also included the writer Antonia Fraser, poet Leonie Rushforth, Poetry Review editor Fiona Sampson and journalist Sameer Rahim.


Mark Brown, arts correspondent

The GuardianTramp

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