Envelope of Night: Selected and Uncollected Poems, 1966–1990

Michael Burkard, Author . Nightboat $19.95 (382p) ISBN 978-0-976718-56-7

Poets whose principle source of inspiration is a well of deep sorrow, as Burkard's is, tend to avoid sentimentality either by tempering their feeling with formal rigor and stylistic complexity or else simply by rendering it too raw and frayed around the edges to be thought mawkish or soft. Rambling, hard-hitting, and sometimes downright bizarre (“I am hugging myself to death, declarative,/ ... like/ a moist nun”), Burkard most often takes the latter approach, but at his sharpest and best, he demonstrates how the two ways of keeping pathos in check can, in fact, cooperate: “I am so tired/ of disagreeing/ I almost want death/ once, twice/—want death to get it/ over with, over there/ here, light or not.” This retrospective gathers poems from five of Burkard's early books, 47 previously uncollected poems and a brief author's preface. While a greater selectiveness would have intensified the impact of this volume and many of the poems in it, Burkard probably shouldn't be read for the scrupulousness of his editing but for his appealing introspection, hard-won wisdom, dreamy turns, authentic emotionality and for the pleasure of encountering, here and there, those poems in which all his strengths—including rigor and complexity—come together. (Apr.)

Reviewed on: 04/21/2008
Release date: 02/01/2008
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