Stephanie Burt

Stephanie Burt’s Don’t Read Poetry: A Book about How to Read Poems came out last year.

Four poems after Callimachus

Stephanie Burt, 6 February 2020

(Epigrams, 22)

Visual depictions of suicide kill.          We buried Melanie that morning;the day after, Basil died.          I don’t know what he saw,or what she did, but I know          I’ve seen too many pictures of obliviondone up as heaven –This isn’t a poem so much as a warning.   ...

On Sophie Collins: Sophie Collins

Stephanie Burt, 18 July 2019

A ‘Mary Sue’​ is an implausibly skilful, attractive or successful protagonist who seems to be a stand-in for the author, especially in fanfiction. The term comes from Paula Smith’s parodic story ‘A Trekkie’s Tale’ (1973), originally published in a mimeographed journal for Star Trek fans. In mocking ‘Mary Sue’, Smith was not attacking fanfiction...

On Laura Kasischke: Laura Kasischke

Stephanie Burt, 2 August 2018

Where Now is Laura Kasischke’s tenth book of verse (Copper Canyon, £23). She has also written young adult novels, science fiction, historical fiction, books you might label as mysteries or thrillers, and realist novels about present-day adults – 22 books in all over 25 years. Usually, when I read a big Selected, I find myself thinking about how the poet has changed, how...

On Hera Lindsay Bird: Hera Lindsay Bird

Stephanie Burt, 30 November 2017

Poetry​ from New Zealand right now often reflects the nation’s sense of itself: friendly and co-operative, gently ironic, quiet or reserved. This style has something to do with population size (4.7 million: smaller than Scotland, Ireland or Minnesota), something to do with the vicissitudes of talent and publishing, and something to do with the country’s pre-eminent creative...

Where Things Get Fuzzy: Rae Armantrout

Stephanie Burt, 30 March 2017

By​ 1979, when Rae Armantrout published her second book, The Invention of Hunger, with Lyn Hejinian’s Tuumba Press, she was already what much of the literary world would soon learn to call a ‘language poet’. Like Hejinian, like their Bay Area friend and ally Ron Silliman, and like the writers from the East Coast who ran the magazine L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E, Armantrout sought a...

On the Dickman Brothers

Stephanie Burt, 2 February 2017

My brother opened thirteen fentanyl patches and stuck them on his body until it wasn’t his body anymore.

That’s how​ Matthew Dickman describes the death, in 2007, of his older half-brother, Darin Hull. His loss isn’t the only topic in Matthew’s poems, or in the poems of his twin brother, Michael, but it is one for which both poets are known – widely known, in...

Plastigoop: Lucia Perillo

Stephanie Burt, 17 November 2016

Lucia Perillo​, who died on 16 October, was a poet who liked jokes. That’s not unusual in itself, but she also wrote on topics that may disgust you, or ones that you may think funny poetry ordinarily has no right to address: disease, decay, physical humiliation and several kinds of disability, among them her own. In 1988 she learned that she had multiple sclerosis; she long used a...

Poem: ‘My 1981’

Stephanie Burt, 20 October 2016

Everyone’s younger sibling was still in a stroller, learning to drink from a cup or put on a dress. Everyone’s mom was overseeing additions

to our beige, orange and air-conditioned kitchens, choosing the tiles: cake batter, peach, mallow, rose-pink. They matched the crayons that matched our skins.

Everyone’s dad was a lawyer, or else in government service. Our teachers...

Two Poems

Stephanie Burt, 8 May 2014

Tourmalines

I used to collect them; they gather a charge under pressure, piezoelectric (I was proud to know the word), semi-precious when clear, pink or green; mine were half an inch thick, striated, unpopular, cheap enough to hoard. In science museums and gift shops I learned to detect them amid the stacks of greater souvenirs.

At the Smithsonian’s cavernous Museum of Natural...

Diary: My Life as Stephanie

Stephanie Burt, 11 April 2013

First Event 2013, a convention for transgender and gender-variant people, took up ten rooms and three hallways on three floors of the Peabody Marriott hotel, a low-rise in an industrial estate half an hour from Boston. I was there for a day, but the convention stretched over four, with a revue, a fashion show, a pop-up consignment store inside the hotel (‘Tiffany’s Closet: ReBorn...

Must poets write? Poetry Post-Language

Stephanie Burt, 10 May 2012

Traffic right now on the Connecticut Turnpike is doing quite well. The southbound side does see construction through Stamford. Watch for lanes being closed between exits 9 and 7. It’s blocking at least one lane ’til six a.m. Once you make it down to the city line you’re OK here. The Westchester County portion of the New England Thruway right on down through the Bronx on...

No scene could be worse: Adrienne Rich

Stephanie Burt, 9 February 2012

Adrienne Rich’s new poems show qualities that almost require the label ‘late style’. They are made up of fragments, careless of finish and of audience. In technique, as well as in explicit subjects, they account for debilities and advancing years, which they also fiercely defy, and they look back so insistently to her earlier work that they may not seem designed to stand up...

Professor or Pinhead: Anne Carson

Stephanie Burt, 14 July 2011

Some writers discover their powers gradually. Others – Anne Carson, for example – spring from the head of Zeus. With three books in four years during the mid-1990s, the Canadian poet, classical scholar, essayist and translator became suddenly prominent in North America; she had found readers in Britain as well by 2001, when The Beauty of the Husband: A Fictional Essay in 29 Tangos...

Always On: Facebook

Stephanie Burt, 10 June 2010

The changes that have made it so much harder for Disney or NewsCorp to control what you see and hear are the same changes that make it very much harder for you to limit what your kids see and hear. A Tasmanian teenager can now discover – and, through social networks, find other people who are discovering – the poetry of Lorine Niedecker, the music of the Fat Tulips and the manifestos of climate change activists; she can also find encouragement, on the frightening ‘pro-ana’ (anorexia) sites, if she wants to starve herself to death. She can thereby redefine herself, if she likes, as a poetry reader, as a climate activist, as anorexic. Yet she is more likely to define herself just as she would have without the internet – by social class, by pre-existing tastes, by her schoolfriends.

Two Poems

Stephanie Burt, 8 April 2010

Hyperborea

after Pindar, Olympian 3

Once past the man-high teeth and the disintegrating ice that separate human lands from the gods’ secret territory, what Herakles found was nothing on first sight worth even half a breath to the sort of fortune-tellers and singers who vaunt celebrities’ pleasures, who promise new heroes the solace of willing nymphets and smooth-shouldered...

Olallieberries: D.A. Powell’s poems

Stephanie Burt, 24 September 2009

The first collection published by D.A. Powell, Tea (1998), looked oddly like a smart restaurant menu: Wesleyan University Press manufactured a shiny, green and gilt hardback, six inches tall and nine inches wide, to accommodate Powell’s very short poems and very long lines. The promise the cover gave was borne out inside, where those long lines flaunted multiple midline stops, unruly...

It must feel odd – and more than a bit unsettling – to realise that sooner or later, perhaps in your lifetime, somebody will write your biography. Biographers can get lives badly wrong; and even when they get things right, giving attentive accounts with the salient facts in order, they may leave out friendships and discoveries that contributed greatly to a writer’s inner...

It is almost always better for a good poet to be recognised than to remain obscure. And yet it might well frustrate a good poet – and it ought to frustrate his readers – when he gets recognised for the wrong things. Frank Bidart first became famous in America (famous, that is, as American poets go) for the grisly violence of his dramatic monologues, for his poems’ unusual...

Kick over the Scenery: Philip K. Dick

Stephanie Burt, 3 July 2008

When an art form or genre once dismissed as kids’ stuff starts to get taken seriously by gatekeepers – by journals, for example, such as the one you are reading now – respect doesn’t come smoothly, or all at once. Often one artist gets lifted above the rest, his principal works exalted for qualities that other works of the same kind seem not to possess. Later on, the quondam genius looks, if no less talented, less solitary: first among equals, or maybe just first past the post. That is what happened to rock music in the late 1960s, when sophisticated critics decided, as Richard Poirier put it, to start ‘learning from the Beatles’. It is what happened to comics, too, in the early 1990s, when the Pulitzer Prize committee invented an award for Art Spiegelman’s Maus. And it has happened to science fiction, where the anointed author is Philip K. Dick.

Poem: ‘Peonies’

Stephanie Burt, 10 April 2008

        Yes, another poem about flowers and kids. Our son thinks this one is a ball, or full of balls: like jesters’ caps with bells, one for each stem, or old pawnbrokers’ signs, the lot next door in rainy April weather dangles, and then in sunlight lifts, what he believes he ought to pluck and grasp and throw,

if we would let him. Little...

What Life Says to Us: Robert Creeley

Stephanie Burt, 21 February 2008

For a spell during the 1960s, Robert Creeley’s ‘I Know a Man’ may have been the most often quoted, even the most widely known, short poem by a living American. Written around 1954, the poem got wide notice after For Love (1962), Creeley’s first trade collection, and it is not hard to see why. Sad and funny at once, with a trick ending, it undercuts the pretensions of high culture: what earlier poet would admit ‘I am/always talking,’ or suggest that his own verse exemplified mere ‘talk’? Better yet, ‘I Know a Man’ undercuts hip counterculture too: old and new art, Romantic despair and groovy enthusiasm, seem comically and equally irrelevant to the hurried American who just wants to get safely down the road.

‘The painters have paid too much attention to the ism and not enough to the painting,’ William Carlos Williams wrote in 1928. Something similar could be said about Williams’s own critics: since his death in 1963, attention to his theories and to his life has been getting in the way of his poems. With Williams, more than the usual number of isms and caricatures need to be...

Hi, Louise! Frank O’Hara

Stephanie Burt, 20 July 2000

Open Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems at random, somewhere in the middle, and you may get what looks like a Post-It note to a friend, or versified notes on a Jackson Pollock painting, a James Dean movie or ‘the music of Adolphe Deutsch’. You may also get one of many enticing, informal, secretly-complex poems that sound like nobody else ever has:‘

Now for the Hills: Les Murray

Stephanie Burt, 16 March 2000

Prodigious and frustrating, welcoming and cantankerous, Les Murray’s body of work has made him both Australia’s best-known poet and its most powerful. Full of Australian history, places and things, his poetry also displays the more abstract qualities Murray likes to think of as Australian. Chief among these is ‘sprawl’, defined as ease, cheerful excess, unbuttonedness and unsnobbish self-confidence: ‘Sprawl is really classless … Sprawl is loose-limbed in its mind.’ Murray’s verse really does sprawl, and there’s a lot of it: some is blustery, sloppy or hard to listen to. His work flaunts its roughness, its male friendliness, its ‘defiance of taste’, its provincial or Boeotian identifications, its ethical doctrines and its Catholic ideals. His attitudes can be difficult to take, but his accomplishments are difficult to ignore. Among them are spectacular feats of description; character-studies with real moral force; sharp storytelling; and, now, the best very long poem in English for some time.‘

From The Blog
19 November 2012

If you are a graduate student working on poetry, or a critic writing about an unfamiliar period or tradition, you will probably find yourself opening the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, for a few decades now the best point of departure for such questions as: what was Lettrism? Who are the major Flemish poets? What are the origins of rhyme? The first PEPP appeared in 1965; two of its three editors died in the 1980s, midway through the lengthy task of turning the second edition into the third. The fourth PEPP, published in August, is not only the first in twenty years, but the first with an all new editorial team: Roland Greene, Stephen Cushman and three associate editors rode herd on 1100 articles, some wholly unchanged, many lightly rewritten, and 250 entirely new. (I rewrote ‘refrain’.) It’s a big brick of a volume, almost the size of a child's head, and it may be the last edition of PEPP to take shape as a physical printed book.

From The Blog
4 October 2012

There are the books you like, and the books you can recommend, and the books around which you can muster arguments. And then there are the books from which you can get no aesthetic distance at all. Often they’re books about childhood, or about something or somewhere you knew as a child. They can also be books about books. Among Others by Jo Walton, is one such book for me, and not for me alone: last week it picked up the British Fantasy Award, having already won the Nebula and the Hugo for the year's best science fiction novel. The two awards together describe the state of SF (one’s voted on by working authors, the other by fans); when the same book wins both, it’s a recommendation, and it says something about the state of the genre. And yet Among Others is not science fiction at all, if you judge by its plot.

From The Blog
13 August 2012

Mitt Romney’s running mate, Paul Ryan, is a seven-term congressman from small-town Wisconsin, best known for his radical shrink-the-government fiscal proposals, though he's also quite conservative on everything else. A year and a half ago, the ‘Ryan budget’ put him in the national spotlight – with some help from Obama (on which more below) – and made him a hero on the right. It proposes making big cuts in many federal programmes and turning Medicare into a voucher system that would not keep up with healthcare inflation: the government would save money because old people would go untreated or pay more. Compared to many Republican proposals, it’s full of detail, though its arithmetic appears not to hold up.

From The Blog
11 May 2012

Timothy Alborn is the dean of arts and humanities and a professor of history at Lehman College of the City University of New York, and a scholar of Victorian business history. From 1989 to 1998 he ran Harriet Records, which released singles and CDs by never or not-yet famous pop groups such as the Scarlet Drops, Twig and Wimp Factor XIV. From 1985 to 1998 he also published Incite!, a fanzine with perhaps as many as several hundred readers, fans of obscure pop and rock bands from Boston to Dusseldorf to Melbourne. (During the 1990s Alborn taught at Harvard, where I met him and became a fan of his work.)

From The Blog
15 July 2011

There are the records you like that everyone else seems to like, and the records you like that very few people have heard. And then there are the records you like that everyone else who has heard them seems to despise, the records that sank, or nearly sank, musicians' careers. At the top of that third stack, for me, is Bob Mould's modulate. Before it came out in 2002, Mould was known as an indie-rock guitarist, writing grim, angry, straightforward songs. modulate, though, was half mumbled and half AutoTuned, flipping disconsolately between dirty guitars and a low-budget version of the Pet Shop Boys, composed partly on synthesisers that sounded as if he'd just bought them; it was dance music that nobody could dance to, a collection of could-have-been hits undermined and overrun by brassily programmed samples, police sirens, bells, boxy electronic drums, and other touches that repelled a rock audience without going out of its way to grab anyone else.

From The Blog
8 June 2011

Jessie and I were making our way to the Métro from the Jardin du Luxembourg when we literally stumbled – I think I tripped over a microphone cable – into the 29th annual Marché de la Poésie, an open-air, weekend-long festival of poets and poetry, with enough tents, booths, temporary stages, lecterns, folding chairs and rope lines to take up the whole of the Place Saint-Sulpice. The festival is big enough and famous enough to have developed a fringe (périphérie), a set of poetry-related events that continue until late June, in venues from the Portuguese consulate to the Halle St-Pierre in Montmartre. The organisers say that last year there were 509 exhibitors and 60,000 visitors.

From The Blog
10 May 2011

When an artist who is already famous dies suddenly, tributes can start right away, and circulate rapidly; when a more obscure artist dies young, the tributes, and even the news of his death, can take much longer to reach people who like, or might like, his work. Take Nick Drake, so much better known now than when he was alive; or Keith Girdler, lead singer in the 1990s indie-pop act Blueboy, who died in 2007, from cancer. You wouldn't mistake Girdler's work for Drake's, but if you like one you'll probably like the other. There's the delicate voice just barely willing (he's clearly able) to lift and drop a melody; the spiderweb-thin bareness of some tracks, and the fluent chamber arrangements of others; the hint of rock and roll, usually just offstage. If Drake was a reticent hippie, Blueboy were reticent sophisticates; Girdler was confessing his quasi-secrets at the edge of a party too fancy for him, and for you, to feel comfortable there. Blueboy were in their time the best and the smartest proponents of a particular sort of mostly acoustic pop.

From The Blog
15 September 2010

Earlier this year the TLS took a couple of digs at Infinite Difference, an anthology of 'Other' (i.e. experimental, overtly difficult) poetry by women, edited by Carrie Etter. J.C. made fun of the poems' apparent incoherence: 'If you come across one that is prepared to meet shared experience even halfway, you catch yourself thinking you've got it.' Marianne Morris, one of the writers the TLS mocked, retorted on her blog that of course her poems did not make prose sense, since 'critical language and poetic language are different orders of discourse.' But she welcomed the harsh spotlight: 'That my work is quoted in the TLS at all is merely evidence of the ambitious and peculiar task' of trying 'to bring poetry that is written against mainstream regulations into the mainstream'. If you take these sorts of argument on their own terms you may end up either implying that all poems should make prose sense, or else defending all poems that do not (because they oppose a mainstream, break down barriers, and so on). Better, far better, just to read through the anthology,

From The Blog
31 August 2010

It takes guts to name your blog after a book by Henry James; as well as guts, Steve McLaughlin has the time, the energy and the open-ended Greyhound bus ticket to crisscross the USA and Canada interviewing semi-prominent figures in experimental, or semi-experimental, poetry for a series of podcasts. McLaughlin, who recently graduated from the University of Pennsylvania (which is sponsoring the podcasts), has been recording his travels on his blog, The American Scene. There you can see his photographs of graffiti and his portraits of the people he has interviewed in Montreal, Toronto, Boston, Maine, Georgia, New York City and New Orleans; you can even read his brief, flattering notes about his interview with me.

From The Blog
19 July 2010

If you want to distinguish poetry, the multifarious, sometimes ridiculous ongoing enterprise, from ‘poetry’, the set of prestigious texts (most by people long dead) found on school exams, and if the poetry in question is your own, you can attempt to make the verse you write as shockingly informal, as anti-academic, as unmonumental, as your other aesthetic goals permit. We recognise the New York School poets, and the poets who would be their heirs, by such attempts, which is why scholars who work on them face a paradox.

From The Blog
25 June 2010

I get dozens of books and chapbooks in the post, unsolicited, every month, singly or in sets. One set stood out even before I cut the pages: five slender, staple-bound items with off-white covers, instalments of Lost and Found: The City University of New York (CUNY) Poetics Document Initiative: hard-to-find essays, letters and other archival discoveries by and about American ‘experimental’ poets from the last half century, meticulously edited and lightly annotated by graduate students at CUNY, under the general editorship of Ammiel Alcalay.

From The Blog
21 May 2010

The United States had elections this month too. Most of Tuesday's ballots were primaries; one was a by-election, for the House seat long held by the Democrat John Murtha, who died three months ago. Murtha became famous in 2005 when he called for US troops to get out of Iraq. His antiwar position was a surprise: he was never especially liberal, and his district was anything but. Pennyslvania's 12th Congressional district is on the border with West Virginia – it's coal and steel country, except where it's rural, and its median residents are socially conservative, white people who support the Democrats (if they do) thanks to their unions. PA-12 was the only one of America's 435 Congressional districts to choose John Kerry in 2004 but John McCain in 2008; the by-election seemed to present low-hanging fruit for Republicans, and polls had it too close to call.

From The Blog
24 March 2010

A year ago US healthcare reform seemed inevitable: no one knew whether it would include a public option (a government-backed competition with private insurers), or how much it would try to control costs, but all the smart money expected that some plan to insure America's uninsured, or at least many of them, would go through. Eight weeks ago the smart money went the other way: Republican Scott Brown's surprise election to the Senate not only killed the Democrats' Senate supermajority, but spooked already nervous Democrats in the lower house so badly that it seemed they would not, could not take the necessary votes.

Letter
I wonder whether Perry Anderson’s mention of George Eliot might not give readers unfamiliar with her work the wrong impression. Romola does take place much further from her own time than any of her other novels, but those other novels are not all ‘realistic representations of contemporary life’. Adam Bede (published in 1859) begins in 1799, while Felix Holt (1866), and Middlemarch...
Letter

Special Powers

10 April 2008

Elif Batuman’s great piece gets one thing wrong. Kal-El is not (or at least not usually) the city where Superman was born, but his name in the language of his home planet, Krypton (he is the son of Jor-El).
Letter

Censorship!

7 March 2002

Readers who want to know more about William Carlos Williams’s enjambments, and about his exemplary poem ‘To a Poor Old Woman’, should seek out Stephen Cushman’s monograph William Carlos Williams and the Meanings of Measure (Yale, 1985), two references to which were cut from my review in the LRB, 7 March.
Letter
Ian Hamilton can think what he will (LRB, 2 March) about Randall Jarrell’s poems and essays, but his account of the man ought not to be let stand. Hamilton makes Jarrell sound unmannerly, oblivious, unbearably ego-driven, ‘pretty good at looking after Number One’. Jarrell, he writes, ‘was praised as one of America’s best war poets but saw no military action’: in...

Toolkit for Tinkerers: The Sonnet

Colin Burrow, 24 June 2010

Sonnets have no rival. They’ve been written about kingfishers, love, squirrels, the moon (too often), God, despair, more love, grief, exultation, time, decay, church bells beyond the stars...

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