In the first, and best, of his three volumes of memoirs, A Lie About My Father (2006), John Burnside describes Limbo as “the one truly great Catholic invention: a no man’s land of mystery and haunting music.” This is the world his poems have always inhabited, and Still Life with Feeding Snake, his fourteenth collection (in just under thirty years), is no different—indeed the apparent lack of development is one problem with his work.1 A puzzling gap exists between the world of Burnside’s memoirs—marked by violence, alcoholism, and mental illness—and the etiolated world of the poems, which are like the thuribles of his Catholic childhood, giving off a fragrant...


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