Parallel Play

Stephen Burt, Author . Graywolf $14 (88p) ISBN 978-1-55597-437-4

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.)

Reviewed on: 01/23/2006
Release date: 01/01/2006
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