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Friday, 23 July 2010

Featured Poet: Stephen Burt

Eyewear is very pleased to welcome the younger American poet, critic, and essayist, Stephen Burt, pictured, this late July Friday, as London's heatwave turns a bit (a lot) rainy.  Burt, who has a PhD from Yale, and is a tenured Professor of Literature at Harvard, had a central role in the last decade or more in suggesting new schools or styles for contemporary American poetry - with his influential Boston Review essays on Elliptical and New Thing poetries, for example.

His own poetry has fused an interest in mid-century modes, and pop culture, to great effect, in books such as Parallel Play and Popular Music.  His literary studies and books on adolescence and poetry, the sonnet, and Randall Jarrell, and the 40s confessional generation, are all engaging and eye-opening, and recommended reading (the summer awaits).  Readers of leading literary journals, like the TLS, will be familiar with his essays.

Burt is rare, these days, for being a poet-critic who is as comfortable writing about Larkin as about Lowell - he is an Atlanticist at a time when (Mark Ford as the exception that proves the rule) few if any poets bridge that gap.  Without a doubt a leading poet and thinker on poetry of the 21st century, it's a great thrill and honour to have his poem here - and oh, yeah, he has a cool blog, too.


In Memory of the Rock Band Breaking Circus

You were whiny and socially unacceptable even
to loud young men whose first criterion
for rock and roll was that it strike someone else
as awful and repulsive and you told
grim stories about such obscure affairs
as a man-killing Zamboni and a grudge-
laden marathon runner from Zanzibar

who knifed a man after finishing sixteenth

Each tale sped from you at such anxious rate
sarcastic showtunes abject similes
feel like a piece of burnt black toast
for example threaded on a rusty wire followed
up by spitting too much time to think
by fusillades from rivetguns by cold
and awkward bronze reverberant church bells

percussive monotones 4/4 all for

the five or six consumers who enjoyed
both the impatience of youth
and the pissiness of middle age
as if you knew you had to get across
your warnings against all our lives as fast
as practicable before roommate or friend
could get up from a couch to turn them off

We barely remember you in Minnesota we love

our affable Replacements who modeled a more
acceptable form of rage who thought of girls
and cities boys and beds and homes and cars
as flawed but fixable with the right drink
right mates and right guitar strings whereas you
did not and nothing in your songs resolved
except in a certain technical sense as a drill

resolves contrasts between drywall and screw

Your second bassist took the stage name Flour
your second drummer copied a machine
Somebody else in your hometown took credit
for every sound you taught them how to use
I write about you now since nobody else
is likely to and since even appalled
too-serious flat compliments like these

are better than nothing and because to annoy

perseverate and get under everyone's skin
beats the hell out of the real worst thing in the world
which is to fade into silence entirely which
will never happen to The Ice Machine
to "Driving the Dynamite Truck" to The Very Long Fuse
to Smoker's Paradise such hard sticks thrown
in the eyes of any audience that is

I should say not until it happens to me

poem by Stephen Burt; originally appeared in New Ohio Review
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