Author Archives: johnb

Between One Day and Another

Cray knot image by Leslie NichollFrom A Crazy Knot


We are just on that verge
Between Autumn and Winter
We are just within that balance
When day is not yet night.
The air hangs over our heads
And shoulders; it is heavy
Still with smells, sounds and warmth
Here, between hill and lough.
From an early-ploughed field
Trailing wisps of smoke finger
Up through this patch-worked air
Then down again, reeking
Into the farmer’s hair and beard.
He piles more branches on
Then kicks white wood-ash
Across the naked, rippling earth.
A whisper of wind takes it.
Dove-calls issue from far trees.
Patiently, night eases down.
Sparks fan, flash, gasp and die.
A horse plunges his muzzle
Deep into the water trough.
He rises up, shocked and alert,
Diamonds radiating off pagan whiskers.
For an instant, car horns
And the sounds of engines
Marry with chanting voices,
With creakings of long-boat oars:
Holy men and warriors,
Harpers and poets, and old women
With cures for bodies and hearts
And souls, congregate all about
The flames
Paying witness to this one man
Tending his shivering ground,
Alone, intent, attendant to
The creeping fire, the crumbling flame.

From A Crazy Knot, a collection representing collaborations between writers and artists. Commissioned and published by Seacourt Print Workshop, in a limited edition of 100 handmade and hand bound portifolios and with an introduction by Maurice Hayes, who wrote, “The title itself (A Crazy Knot) is both word and image. John Hewitt’s ‘Crazy Knot’ is a metaphor for the rich mixture of culture and traditions on the island, for disorder, lack of neatness, tangle and confusion, and yet of closeness too and tightness, togetherness and through-otherness…

Kelt, Briton, Roman, Saxon Dane and Scot, Time and this island tied a craze knot.’ From John Hewitt’s ‘Ulsterman’

‘Between One Day and Another’, Sam Burnside, illustrated by Leslie Nichol, in A Crazy Knot, Seacourt Print Workshop, (Catalogue, 1996, pp. 1-2); catalogue and Arts Council of Northern Ireland touring exhibition of words and images. 1996-1997.

Columba Canticles to be performed in City of Culture 2013



World Premiere of 

Columba Canticles 

A New Work Commissioned by The Culture Company and St Columb’s Cathedral as part of the

UK Year of Culture 2013

To mark St Columba’s Feast Day + the 400th anniversary of the sending of the seal from London to Derry (giving it city status) +  the sending of the Promise Chalice to Derry 400 years ago


London’s Southbank Sinfonia

Aberdeen University Choir

University of Ulster Choir

Libretti written by Sam Burnside; set to music by Laurence Roman

# First performance:  St Columba Cathedral, Derry on 9 June. 2013

# Then, Parliament Buildings, Stormont, Belfast, 10 June, 2013

Start time(s)
St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry 7:30pm
Parliament Buildings, Belfast 7:30pm
Ticket prices
St Columb’s Cathedral
Adults £10
Concessionary £7
Tickets will be available from The Playhouse Box Office
Tel: 028 7126 8027

Columba Canticles

(C)  2013


Sam Burnside said: “Columba Canticles explores the experiences of ordinary men and women of the Plantation – that is, the lives of the ‘Planted’, as distinct from the ‘ Planters’ – the shoemakers, stonemasons, weavers, the laborours the men and women who have made such a contribution to our culture.


Laurence Roman said: “Columba Canticles is a celebration of the human spirit featuring this specially commissioned score.  In setting Londonderry writer Sam Burnside’s award-winning cycle of poems, this oratorio explores 21st century spirituality in all its freshest, most vibrant colours. The Church is cast as a mighty crucible in which the soul of humanity blazes brightly. ‘


The choirs of the Universities of Ulster and Aberdeen combine with the Southbank Sinfonia for this exciting world premier, set amid the historic magnificence of St Columb’s Cathedral in the heart of the City of Derry.


Columba Canticles weaves a dazzling tapestry of music and verse celebrating 400 years of Derry’s richly joyous, yet volatile history.”


Canon Brian Smeaton

(Churchill, Co Donegal) has written of this work:

‘In Columba Canticles Samuel Burnside catches the voice of the workers of plantation in Ireland.- “For dates we say, The past, History. / For numbers we say, Many, too many…”Theirs was the rough, tough daily grind of colonisation, a compound of class division and religious difference made rigid by fear. The poem lets humanity shine through the words- “ this righteous marriage of sweetness/ and bitterness / the seed and the mystery of/ us- we- one.” Telling the story- “Spreading out, a dozen here a dozen/ there / the land bestowed her favours on/them /for they were ardent/ in their husbandship of these/ valleys and hills…….” There is passion and the unknown, hope and misery, pilgrimage and settlement in the lives of people sent to this end of the earth. Sam Burnside knows it in his bones, and tells it like it was.’

 Derry~Londonderry City of Culture 2013


Sam Burnside


When my dry dust,
Scattered at evening time,
Blindly, in fisted hand
And arm stiff with rage and despair,
Settles on cool water,
The final binding together will be lost
If calmness is lost.

All that gone, too –
For time loses all
Documentation of public memory
And even monuments to private witness
Must marry with obscurity –
As our voices are swallowed by storms
Whose rising and ending serve purpose
Or no purpose, or little purpose.





Sam Burnside

A city is a place of wall within wall within wall:
There is no elbow room in pigeon holes
There is no legroom in pads (behind brown doors,
Up steep stairs); there is no headroom in squats.
No scope in the the nook and cranny arenas
Of backyard and court-yard.

Large bodies, like oceans or mountain ranges,
Can effect climatic conditions, they can change the weather
Cause mildew on you headgear, create storms inside your skull.

One time, when city fathers still had town criers
At their disposal
To spread what was their humour that day
And the body politic habitually stopped by
The town square or market-place to talk
Of thunderstorms, hurricanes or typhoons,
You’d find old men who had been sailors or navigators
Telling of tornadoes and waterspouts they had seen,
And monsoons they have weathered, or asserting
They had known of whirlwinds that carried camels
Into the air, off their feet, tumbling out of sight over sand-dunes.

If you look back into the vortex of time, you’ll find
That the wise man – or the wise priest, for that matter –
Kept an eye on the weather, a weather eye on his interests,
For his own potency was linked to the earth’s erratic fecundity.

In all of this,
In glebes, in baggy meadows, in commodious grasslands,
Snow was the thing that might well have lifted a man’s mind
Away from matters of state,
Clouds, drizzling intangible, yet crisp, crystals
The dust of diamonds
(Crushed between the finger and thumb
Of some big god or other)
Magical, yet,
Making in the light of the sun or the moon
The manifold phenomenona of atmospheric optics –
Namely, halos, arcs, circles, mock suns,
A few coronas, iridescent clouds. And the like.

Nightingales and Crows

Sam Burnside
1 January, 2007
(from a suggestion made by Bronagh)

A comfortable gathering on this first day
Of this new New Year that has fallen upon us:
An unusual coitus of friends and relations, gathered
At the big table, dining off Granny’s duck soup,
Off the cheese and bread, off her home-baked mince pies;
The wine bottle, waved seductively (yet discreetly)
By Grandpapa, now disrobed down to black tee-shirt.
(Dishabille, as he might have it…)

The ebbs and flows of conversations become
Tangled and mellow and emollient, dissolving into
A Finnegan’s Wake
Of lyrically painted pools and pots of piss and shit,
Of caked dunghills and rutted green middens.
Casual talk of Sligo, comparing schools in Dublin,
Throw-away remarks about eating-houses
In London, in San Francisco in Cape Town; then,
Talk of the black townships, of Archbishop Tu Tu; and then,
The Doherty tribes and their nickname; then, Scalp Mountain
And a painting of Burnfoot, given as a gift.
This brings us back home. Then coffee. Then, more talk,
This time
To how a dead friend’s fence was cut and mended in the night,
Of Raython inhibitors, and such things, Ireland’s change
Of railways and roads
In the 60’s and Ulster Buses, and cases loaded
Step by step
Up ladders
And then,
It is over,
We scatter,
Like leaves on the wind.

There are no horses loose among the apple trees
On this black winter evening,
Only shadows on the walls of the tigeen, as we pass
(A murder of Crows, a watch of Nightingales
in Ballyshaskey)
So, we leave, well-set-up
For the long haul,
For the unfolding,
For the mystery,
Of another year.

An Autumn Day

Sam Burnside
written 11 – 11 – 2004
remembering 8 – 10 – 2001


My room is drained of light.
I sit by the window, reading.
Outside, the sky is grey,
the white clouds frozen.
Then, a brown leaf,
its pale face turned away
and veiled by one curling shoulder,
scuttles along the path.
A tribe of others, eyes averted,
each one hunch-backed, speed after.

Suddenly, sunlight is here, without ceremony:
it quickens the grey day;
it backlights the first stribbings of rain;
the air is a wind, is a storm, is a tempest:
the leaves dance,
they waltz, they
foxtrot and tango,
hop, skip and boogie.

The day is a symphony
of bits and pieces.

The world is salt and pepper and grit.


Sam Burnside

Then, when it is all over here
when I am parked on the border
between two worlds, held in that inscrutable gaze,
when I am laid aside and just waiting,
netted, as it were, laid out on grass,
and impatient to be gathered up
the willow rods bent,
webbed, laced and knotted; knit
to form a basket, a creel, a cot;
when I am
bedded and couched
cradled and cribbed,
with cool moss placed under my neck;
cosseted, so; the cover
closed now and clasped;
lying there, behind these lattice walls,
I may well dream I am seeing tree tops bend
I might just trust I am hearing the wind, blowing among stars;
I may possibly mull over the sensation of knowing the last cool,
caressing kiss of calming air.
Yet, I believe I shall take care to attend to any whisper,
to any murmured instruction to come away.



New Book Published

New & Selected Poems by Sam Burnside“The snow comes on like a bride
Approaching with veiled intent”
From “Rump Parliament”

A new selection of Burnside’s poems (drawn from previously published together with more recent work) is now on sale.

The old method of ‘subscription publishing’ is being used – an example of a dynamic and democratic relationship that stands as a living partnership between author and reader.

The book is available in paper form or as an e-book on KINDLE from