Belmont

Stephen Burt, Author
Stephen Burt. Graywolf, $15 (112p) ISBN 978-1-55597-644-6
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Renowned critic Burt’s third poetry collection Belmont (named for Burt’s Boston suburb and the fictional suburb in The Merchant of Venice) explores themes of adulthood, parenthood, and personhood with tenderness, intelligence, and wonder. These are welcoming, entertaining poems full of rhetorical questions that are never bullying or glib: “Dear shepherd: do you have a staff?/ Dear effortful ones: how far are you wandering home?” The juxtaposition of subjects proves every bit as enjoyable as the poems themselves: ”Self-Portrait as Muppet” appears beside “The Soul,” their content skillfully blending lyricism and plainspokenness. The poems that directly address the responsibilities of parenthood are some of the most successful, striking a rare chord of sensitivity and accuracy. In one, the speaker lists precautionary items all parents are wont to carry—“sunscreen,/ and insect repellent, and pretzel stick, and Aquafor,” closing the poem with the following insight: “We mean/ it when we say like it; we feel sure/ it’s safe around here, and once we feel safe, it’s our nature/ to say we’re unsatisfied, and pretend to seek more.” Elsewhere, the speaker evokes the paradox of certainty through syntactically slippery, indented lines: “How yellow the sky how little the understanding/ Intangible the things we know for sure.” This collection, full of heart and humor, demonstrates Burt’s impressive range and formal deftness. (June)
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