Popular Music

popularmusicFrom Publisher’s Weekly:
The innocent grandeur of Randall Jarrell, the longing ekphrastic gazes of James Merrill and the tough romanticism of Spanish poet Jaime Gil de Biedma are fused, in this debut, with the brooding poses and sexualized self-doubt of 1980s indie-popAand the result is a sort of brilliant “take back the night” raid on what is often called academic poetry. A doctoral student at Yale who has written for the TLS and PW, among other journals, Burt has produced a near-bildungsroman, selected by Jorie Graham for the press. Beginning with a loathing of the poet’s developing bodyAwhich “migrates to dirt, corners, bread/ shoulders and arid homework: appanage, aptitude”Athe poems continue through education and travel, ending on the “delight, green need/ and weird vivacious luck” of love. Precociously detached enough to write lines like “Tall sonorous pot vendors pace; lobster-brisk men on stoops hawk their used libraries in stacks” when revisiting novelist Elizabeth Smart’s haunts, the poet also applies himself to “the reedy tone/ …the charm-bracelet chimes from [the] secondhand pink/ 12 string” of Aztec Camera’s Roddy Frame; to “Astronomy” and Ireland’s vanished Clonmacnoise monastic community; and to “St. Cecilia at a Reed Organ, by Orazio Gentileschi and Giovanni Lanfranco.” His good-natured control of the high-low ironies in doing so drive the book. At times, Burt’s descriptive power threatens to overwhelm the poems, and those that center on travel or works of art sometimes fail to get past their occasions. But his taut mastery of free verse, his willingness to spatter ideas as he makes his way through the world, and his consistent emotional probing make this book wonderfully unlike anything operating in similar registers.

“In this beautiful debut volume, Stephen Burt, in poetic actions that range with unusual ease from prose to sonnets and free verse, explorers the sensation of selfhood as it presents itself, in all its fractured parts, for re-formation. His speaker moves from the longing to ’be someone else’ – to rid himself of every version of his own shadow – through a multitude of sensations covered by the notion of ’blasphemy’ of soul, where words themselves are a source of anxiety, to slow accommodation (especially powerfully rendered as a capacity for dream and the knowledge dream-logic allows) with the Kafkaesque free-form guilt of personhood. Passionate and deeply accomplished, this is most truly elegant and honest work.”

– Jorie Graham, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Dream of the Unified Fields: Selected Poems 1974-1994

“In poems that are personal in their distrust of constructions of gendered self, dazzling in their speed of association, and masterful in their orchestration of an insistently ebullient music, Stephen Burt pulls the cork from a new century. Burt’s spicy, heuristic mix of high-literary and sub-pop culture requires a new reader. My dear, it is you.
-Forrest Gander, author of Science & Steepleflower