Anthems, Neighborhoods, and Adulthood.
A Review of
Paperback: Graywolf Press, 2013
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Reviewed by Joel E. Jacobson
Well known for his definition of elliptical poetry and labeling “the new thing” in poetry, critic Stephen Burt adds his own voice to the choir of American poets searching for meaning and identity in a cultural climate intent on crucifying outsiders. Burt is not just a poet and critic, but also a husband, father, professor and cross-dresser. These eclectic details may not directly relate to each other, but they help understand the bared heart of a man searching for a world in which he and his family can exist and thrive.
The opening poems are meditations of a father-to-be as he wonders what type of person his child will become. In the process, the poet begins to evaluate his own life, his own evolution of being, his own place of acceptance in a world that alienates men who wear dresses and makeup. Burt masterfully uses urban imagery to embrace both his personal values and the values of his surrounding community. The tone is pastoral, but the material is urban, which creates a meditative ambivalence of love and hate, materialism and abstemiousness. In “Poem of Seven A.M.”, Burt writes, “The tireless & endless rubbish on & against the curb / looks to have been the product of a bilious regime / unknown to human motives, & too big for human hands.” He continues describing the piles of trash and recycling that “dwarf us, although we have carried them out; they build, indifferently, our tombs . . . all come together in hasty concert / to make their parts a demented harmonium.” These symbols of self-created trash and accumulation of stuff stand for “repeated anthems for our neighborhood, our home.”
*** Other Books by Stephen Burt