Elizabeth Burns (1957-2015)

“A huge banner displaying what is believed to be the UK’s largest printed poem has been unveiled on Edinburgh’s Royal Mile. Spiral, by Elizabeth Burns, has been reproduced on a 25 by eight metre sign to mark National Poetry Day and will stay until next summer. The poet, a descendant of the Robert Burns family, died in August aged 57. Her family said it was a poignant moment when they saw her work displayed on the poster on Thursday.” (8th October 2015). More at… on BBC news, East Fife
Obituary at Lapidus
An article in memory of Elizabeth Burns is published in ARTEMISpoetry, Issue 15 (Second Light Publications, Nov 2015).

Elizabeth Burns has published four collections of poetry, and her work has appeared in many anthologies, including Second Light’s Images of Women and Canongate’s Modern Scottish Women Poets. She is also featured in Lancaster litfest ’s digital anthology, Watermark.

Letter to Katherine Mansfield
on having her portrait rejected by the National Portrait Gallery, 1933

But you look great, Katherine, in your red dress
with your hair as black as the sea at night
when you peered from the deck on the long journey north
and your eyes so dark and serious, unflinching
in the soft Cornish light that falls on you
as you sit in her studio only months before your death.
Already your eyes are shadowed, your skin so pale
and under the vermilion of your dress, your lungs disintegrating.
Flowers surround you, golds and pinks, scarlet poppies,
creamy whites like the blossoms of the pear tree in your story.
Your cheeks and mouth are cherry red, there is so much red,
there is also blood red. She pitches you onto the canvas,
does the artist, she makes you flame from it, there is no
ignoring you, wild colonial girl. But your reds are too bright
for the committee of the gallery who suggest perhaps
a pencil drawing? It’s this or nothing say your friends.
So the portrait languishes, unseen. Fifty years on,
I’m sitting in a garden of frost and sunlight
reading your letters and journals in a book on whose cover
is that portrait, staring up at me, showing me a writer’s life.
Years later, I will give birth to a daughter
and name her for the girl-child in your stories,
the girl they say is like you, the sparky one,
the curious one, the one who rolls in the grass and goes where she shouldn’t.
Still not in the gallery, Katherine, but here among us,
your character’s name on our lips, your stories read over and over,
and you in that picture, defiant and vibrant, your reds
like the petals of tulips, crimson in winter.

Elizabeth Burns

Held, Polygon, 2010;
The Lantern Bearers, Shoestring, 2007;
The Shortest Days, Galdragon Press, 2008, (pamphlet);
The Blue Flower: Poems from the life and art of Gwen John, Galdragon Press, 2004, (pamphlet);
The Gift of Light, diehard, 1999;
Ophelia and other poems, Polygon, 1991.

Elizabeth Burns website
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e-mail Elizabeth

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