John Burnside: to gaze at human faces




John Burnside is one of Gert’s favourite poets, and the LRB is the light of her life. Sometimes the two come together to produce an experience of perfect pleasure, as in John Burnside’s “Diary” in the LRB of  18 December 2014. Musing on near-death experiences, photography, family history and the cinema, Burnside says:

Sitting in the Arts Cinema in Cambridge in my tattered Army and Navy clothes, a poor student who would frequently skip a meal to see a good movie, I learned to relish the freedom to gaze at human faces, to see them shift through any number of different emotions or drift into self-absorption or boredom, or even that beautiful absence in which the soul seems to emerge into the ordinary light of day, like a timid animal come out to play in what it has decided is safe ground. That was what the high period of (mostly European) cinema meant to me, more than anything else: it permitted me to linger on the face of another who was both a real person and an illusion.

A poet, with his habit of linking the unobvious and his sensitivity to the chords of feeling the most ordinary experiences strike, is perhaps better placed than anyone for the essay form.  You couldn’t find a better example of the art than this.

2 thoughts on “John Burnside: to gaze at human faces

  1. I’d like to read more by Burnside at some stage as I loved his writing in A Summer of Drowning. Thanks for the link to his Diary piece in the LRB; I’d missed that in the run-up to Christmas.

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