Burns Singer

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Burns Singer (29 August 1928 – 8 September 1964), born James Hyman Singer in New York and an American citizen all his life, was a poet usually identified as Scottish.

Early life and education

Singer was brought up in Scotland from a young age and educated in Glasgow.

Singer had Polish, Jewish and Irish ancestry and showed considerable interest in Polish poetry. His collaborative translations of Polish poets included Ignacy Krasicki, Juliusz Slowacki, Cyprian Norwid and Jerzy Peterkiewicz. Some of these appeared in the anthology Five Centuries of Polish Poetry, 1450–1950 (1962), with Peterkiewicz, and a later edition.

Career and marriage

In 1945, Singer came south to London, taking some teaching work, and then went to Cornwall where he came into contact with W. S. Graham, a major poetic influence. He studied at University of Glasgow, beginning degree courses in Zoology and English, but abandoned those after the 1951 suicide of his mother. He had by then spent a year in Marburg and done some service in the United States Army.

Singer then worked for four years in marine biology, supporting his father. In 1955, he married Marie Battle, an African-American psychologist; they moved to London, where he sought freelance work writing. He enjoyed a period of success in literary journalism and as a poet. It is considered that his style was a "middle way" or compromise, between the New Apocalyptics and The Movement, or the Scottish Renaissance and the Sassenach.


He spent some time with Marie in Cambridge, before ultimately returning to marine biology. His early death, in Plymouth, was from a heart attack.


  • Living Silver (1953) non-fiction
  • Still and All (1957) (poems)
  • Five Centuries of Polish Poetry (1962) with Jerzy Peterkiewicz
  • Collected Poems (1970) edited by W. A. S. Keir
  • Selected Poems (1977) edited by Anne Clusenaar
  • Collected Poems (2001) edited by James Keery