Scottish writer John Burnside on Monday won the 2011 T.S. Eliot Prize for Poetry, overshadowed this year by the withdrawal of two nominees over a sponsorship deal with an investment company.
Burnside picked up the coveted honor for “Black Cat Bone,” which the judges described as “a haunting book of great beauty, powered by love, childhood memory, human longing and loneliness.”
He also won the Whitbread poetry award in 2000 for “The Asylum Dance” and this year beat seven other nominees, including poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy for her latest collection, “The Bees.”
Duffy spoke out in support of the Poetry Book Society, which runs the annual T.S. Eliot award but has come under fire for agreeing a three-year sponsorship deal with private investment management firm Aurum.
The agreement was necessary after the government cut funding for the society as part of a wide-ranging spending review to bring down the budget deficit.
“In my case I spent a lot of time last year trying to get support for the Poetry Book Society, which suffered 100 percent cuts,” Duffy told Channel 4 News.
“I can only congratulate them in managing to carry on with the administration of this prize. My conscience told me to support the Poetry Book Society.
“It wouldn’t have been a great thing if all the poets had lined up thinking it was their duty to withdraw. It’s very much an individual decision.”
Australian John Kinsella, who was shortlisted for “Armour,” said he had withdrawn on ethical grounds as “an anti-capitalist in full-on form.”
He said he did not have any specific objection against Aurum Funds, but added that hedge funds were “at the very pointy end of capitalism, if I can put it that way.”
Kinsella joined Alice Oswald, who pulled out for similar reasons. She had been shortlisted for “Memorial.”
Burnside picked up a check for 15,000 pounds ($23,000), and each of the nominated authors received 1,000 pounds.
The award is also supported by the T.S. Eliot estate, guardians of the 20th century American-British poet and playwright who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1948.