Popular Music (1999), and its pointed use of traditional forms gives them a spiky s"/>
 

Parallel Play

Stephen Burt, Author
Stephen Burt, Author . Graywolf $14 (88p) ISBN 978-1-55597-437-4
Reviewed on: 01/23/2006
Release date: 01/01/2006
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This second collection is harder and terser than Burt's first collection, Popular Music (1999), and its pointed use of traditional forms gives them a spiky significance: that the choices we're given are limited, and crucial: "Win or lose,/ Such small decisions, run together, fuse/ In concentration nothing like the ease/ We seem to see in the skills you use,/ Till someone wins. Then someone else will lose." Again and again in these 50-plus lyrics, in everything from "Pierre Bonnard: Standing Nude" to "Scenes from Next Week's Buffy the Vampire Slayer ," Burt finds beauty hemmed in on every side, with a fate that is never completely self-determined, and that poses "questions that arrange us for our roles/ In plots on TV shows, on the narrow channels/ Nobody would choose." Burt is the author of the critical study Randall Jarrell and His Age and has written for the New York Times , TLS and PW , and other journals. Operating on a more macro level, his sestina "Our History" repeats the words "evildoers," "country," "history," "poor," "being" and "government"; its juxtaposition of banal discourse with real problems feels liberating, even as it ends "I too would like to be rid of the evildoers,/ but for now this country likes its government./ What will the poor nations say, when they write our history?" The poem requires its repetitions to sound out full force, but it is what liberal democracy sounds like. (Feb.)

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