Poet and creative writing tutor
Born: December 14, 1957.
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Died: August 20, 2015.
ELIZABETH Burns, who has died of cancer aged 57, was a descendant of our national bard Rabbie who herself became a highly-regarded poet, author and sought-after creative writing teacher. Educated in Edinburgh and at St. Andrews, she was brought up and spent her early life in Scotland before settling in Lancashire and she always said the Scottish people and landscape were a major influence in her writing.
Ms Burns (she retained her own name for her work although her married name was Rice) won many awards during her career for poems noted for their lightness, lacy texture, rhythms and the sensually-visual link among poet, subject, history, physical and spiritual environment and even the hidden or unseen.
In 2012, she won the BBC Radio 3 Proms Poetry Competition and the following year was Manchester Cathedral's Poet of the Year. Her first collection, Ophelia and other Poems (1991), was short-listed for a First Book of the Year award from the Edinburgh-based Saltire Society.
For the past 20 years, she taught creative writing and ran mentoring workshops at numerous UK universities, notably Lancaster and the University of Central Lancashire. She was also a meticulous literary editor and proof reader throughout her life.
Although she was too ill to attend, her final collaborative exhibition is still running on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe until Sunday. The exhibition, A Potter, A Painter and a Poet, at the Edinburgh Palette studio and gallery on the capital's London Road, features her poetry and the works of two leading Edinburgh-based artists Paul Tebble (potter) and Anne Gilchrist (painter).
Inspired by ceramics and the Scottish woodlands, each of them explores the inter-relation between pottery, painting and poetry. In her honour, the final day, Sunday, will be dedicated to her work including readings of her poetry by friends and her husband Alan Rice, Professor of English and American Studies at the University of Central Lancashire. The couple married in North Berwick in 2002.
"I like the old Scots word for a poet, 'makar', as I feel this give a sense of the links between making a poem, a pot or a painting," Ms Burns said recently. "I'm fascinated by the long history of pottery, and how it provides a link back to our earliest history."
In one of her poems at the exhibition, Glaze, she wrote: how the pattern of this dark glaze draws out likenesses -- of bark, of lichen on rock, cracked sand, dried-out mud, of overlapping petals or the shapes of leaves, the markings on a moth's wing, and feathers overlaid.
Ms Burns' fascination with what she called the coming together of poetry and the visual arts was demonstrated in her poems dedicated to early 20th Century Welsh artist Gwen John, sister of the more famous Augustus John, including The Blue Flower: Poems from the life and art of Gwen John (2004). The collection includes the brilliant poem Annunciation (A Lady Reading)
Her other best-known collections were The Gift of Light (1999), The Lantern Bearers (2007) and Held (2010). The latter, recently published in Polish, explores the complex ways in which people and things are held – both metaphorically and physically. Through motifs of vessels and containers, the poems investigate the relationships between presence and absence, resilience and fragility. The Gift of Light includes her poem At Barra Airport and her works have been included in many anthologies of Scottish poetry.
Elizabeth Burns was born on December 17, 1957, in Wisbech, Isle of Ely, in Cambridgeshire. Her mother Muriel (Hayward) was from Bristol, her father David Grieve Burns from Kirkcaldy. David was directly descended from the 18th century bard through Rabbie's uncle James, who helped pay the great poet's debts before he died.
Elizabeth moved to Scotland when she was eight, attending Craigmount High School in Edinburgh before graduating MA (Hons) in English and History at St. Andrews. "I grew up with lots of traditional poetry and song," she once said. "so I think partly it's in my blood. My granddad was a great reader of poetry."
In her twenties, she was a leading member of the collective which started the famous First of May Bookshop in Edinburgh, first on Niddry Street and later Candlemaker Row. She was also heavily involved in the capital's Stramullion (Feminist) Press and was an early member of the city's Pomegranate women's writing group.
Even after cancer was diagnosed several years ago, Ms Burns, while not reading or writing, was an ardent walker, often writing poetry in her head at the same time.
"Lizzie would walk to the hospital almost every day for chemo, and back, rather than driving, taking a bus or taxi," her husband Alan told The Herald yesterday. "And she loved friends and socialising. The hundreds of cards and messages and trails of visitors through the house in her last weeks are a testament to the care she took of her friends ... always trying to see and understand other people's side and giving them the benefit of the doubt. She loved children and her own girls were raised on books and board games and long bedtime stories."
Commenting on her work, poetry critics variously said: "She has a painter's patience with texture, light, landscapes and a sensuous appreciation of taste and scent ... Her forceful, emotional rhythms are counterpointed by a cool intellect, but her eye is never dispassionate ... She writes with a painterly richness."
Her husband Alan said she died in Lancaster holding the hands of their two daughters Amy and Kezia. She is survived by Alan, Amy and Kezia, her sisters Alison and Jane, and her mother Muriel.