New Poems from Stephen Burt: Belmont

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A 1913 postcard of the town hall in Belmont, Mass. (Wikipedia)

Here are a few of the words the New York Times once used to describe Stephen Burt: Extremely precocious. Cross-dresser. Passionate booster and fanboy. Lucid. Insightful. Obsessive. Energetic. Eclectic. He is an expert in both sci-fi and women's basketball. But above, all, this Harvard English professor is, "one of the most influential poetry critics of his heir to the likes of Harold Bloom."

Stephen Burt has just published his third poetry collection. It's called, "Belmont", the town he calls home.

He'll be reading from this collection next Thursday, June 27th, at the Harvard Book Store.


Stephen Burt, poet, critic, and professor of English at Harvard.


The New York Times Magazine: "Being a major poetry critic in the United States today may seem like a dubious honor, almost akin to being the best American cricketer, or a distinguished expert on polka. Yet we still teach poetry to our children, and we still reach for it at important moments — funerals, weddings, presidential inaugurations. We tend to look askance at those who claim to be practitioners, skeptical that their work could be any good. We mistrust our own tastes, so we rely on the tastemaker. "


A real one wouldn’t need one,
but the one Nathan draws surely does:
four oblongs the size and color of popsicles,
green apple, toasted coconut and grape,
flanked, two per side, by billowing valentine hearts,
in a frame of Scotch tape.
Alive, it could stay off the floor,
for a few unaerodynamic minutes;
thrown as a paper airplane, for one or two more.

Very sensibly, therefore,
our son gave it something, not to keep it apart
from the ground forever, but rather to make safe its descent.
When we ask that imagination discover the limits
of the real
world only slowly,
maybe this is what we meant.


It makes a certain sort of sense—
you don’t have to like every flower you see, for example,
but you do have to give it a try;
clover blooms with their blanched
and tiniest petals, like architectural models
or a child’s diagram
in a world built only for children, who keep going wrong,
yanking the wrists of distracted caretakers, not knowing
the only real world is the one they have. It is shaped
more or less like an olive, round
but irregular nevertheless, and tangy inside.
They put in something extra for the parents,
vague, but worth advertising: its nickname is silence,
its value tallied only after the fact.

Inside, as in a snow globe,
we saw a cheerful row of wooden
pallets holding up stacked 2x4s,
good omens for an otherwise difficult day,
portending tax overrides, storms over school construction,
a fortune in confusion, wisdom’s end.
Why, for example, do sports people
have numbers on their backs?
Where do the buses go
when they go home? The agile flag
in our park is happy to pick up the toddlers’ questions
and store them in its ever-popular roots.

But they are us,
that’s what they say.

This segment aired on June 21, 2013.


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