Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading New Poetry

Stephen Burt, Author . Graywolf $16 (360p) ISBN 978-1-55597-521-0

This collection of 30 essays, many of which began as book reviews, confirms Stephen Burt's reputation as the leading poetry critic of his generation. Informative, matter-of-fact and abounding with an excited spirit more common to film and pop music reviews than to literary criticism, these essays will appeal to the unpracticed reader of contemporary poetry as well as the seasoned reader. The author of two full-length critical studies of poetry and two poetry collections, Burt comes to the poets he considers—including Rea Armantrout, Juan Felipe Herrera, Paul Muldoon and James Merrill—as both a scholar and a practitioner of the art, but he eschews the specialist's jargon as well as the indulgent lyricality that makes some poets' criticism more dazzling than illuminating. He prefers a more methodical, practical approach, carefully mapping a poet's characteristic formal habits, thematic concerns and apparent affinities and influences, asking nuts-and-bolts questions like “Who was [Frank] O'Hara, and how did he learn to write like that?”Burt has an encyclopedist's will to explicate and taxonomize—his branding of the “Elliptical” school of poetry in 1998 (including poets like Lucie Brock-Broido and Mark Levine) garnered enormous attention here and abroad. He never quite manages to figure out exactly how O'Hara came to be O'Hara—how could he?—but he always succeeds in providing the reader with a learned, insightful and energizing blueprint for his or her own reading pleasure and surmise. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/20/2009
Release date: 03/01/2009
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