The Scottish poet Robert Burns has been idolised and eulogised. He has been sainted, painted, tarted up and toasted. He is famous as the author of ‘Auld Lang Syne’, and he has long since become the patron saint of the heart-sore and the hung-over. But what about the poems? Beneath the cult of Burns’ Nights and patriotic yawps, there is the work itself, among the purest and most truthful created in any age. This is a Burns collection like no other: a reader’s edition, made for the pleasure of reading. Novelist and Scottish essayist Andrew O’Hagan comes into company with the poet who has mattered most to him in his writing life. He selects the poems for the reader, and converses with the work, offering fragments and distilled commentary of his own. The effect is explosive, giving us Robert Burns at his very best - a political Burns, a poet who can name hypocrisy and intolerance, and point directly to the human heart.
“People who find it hard to get into Robert Burns have the answer to their prayers with this book. Here are The Greatest Poems presented in a way that Burns himself would have enjoyed – letting the poems chime and rhyme with the debates that surround us in the world today. Somebody clever once said that poetry helps you to live your life, and here is Burns at his most helpful, in conversation with a Scottish writer who loves him, Andrew O’Hagan. I think the book will change a lot of people’s attitude to poetry.”
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“The way Burns sounded, his choice of words, his rhymes and metaphors,all that collapsed the distance I expected to feel between myself andthe schoolbook poetry I encountered first at Anahorish ElementarySchool…He did not fail the Muse or us or himself as one of poetry’schosen instruments.”
“O’Hagan strips away the sentimentality which continues to cling to Burn’s coat-tails and offers him to us at his very best - political, passionate, incisive and expressive - with biographical and textual notes that greatly enrich the reader’s experience.”
“Picking out his favourite Burns poems, [O’Hagan] explains why each of them still matters, either personally or politically, with the lucidity one has come to expect from one of the leading Scottish essayists and novelists of his generation.”
“Another triumph from the imaginative folks of Canongate and their repackaging skills. Burns has not always been well-served by his publishers and this is exactly the sort of enterprise his 250th birthday next year deserves.”
Andrew O’Hagan was born in Scotland in 1968. He is author of The Missing and Our Fathers, which was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and won the Holtby Prize for Fiction. With his second novel, Personality, he won the E.M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and was named one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists. His most recent novel, Be Near Me, was longlisted for the Booker Prize.
Andrew O’Hagan’s work is published in the London Review of Books, Daily Telegraph, the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker.