The poems in John Burt's newest collection aspire to record something of what Wordsworth called "the still sad music of humanity," that ability to endure the limitations of the world--and the folly of one's own desires and ambitions in it--until one arrives, beyond disappointment or defeat, at a kind of lucid and reflective acceptance of experience with all of its shades. The poems are grouped thematically. The first part contains a series of nocturnes about death. The second includes testy confrontations with strangers. The third treats characters faced with moral challenges beyond their capacities. All of these concerns are at play in the long narrative, "Anna Peterson," a true story, which the author has set at the thematic and emotional center of the book. "I intend these poems," Burt writes, "to be chastened by irony but not silenced by it, aware of the complexities of love and aspiration but not soured by them. Most of these poems are narratives in blank verse, and some of them have to do with historical figures.
Despite the bleakness of the book's assumptions about the course of life, I mean always to honor the inner lives of the characters I write about, who mostly face inevitable things with courage and even spirit. The difficulties the characters face are for the most part unresolvable, but they bring to those difficulties a clarity which is almost if not quite redemptive, a clarity I hope is present in the formal and stylistic poise of even the darkest sections of the book."
John Burt is associate professor of English and American Literature, Brandeis University. He is the author of 'The Way Down' and 'Robert Penn Warren and American Idealism'. His poems have appeared in such literary periodicals as 'Salmagundi', 'Yale Review', and 'Paris Review'.