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Showing posts from November, 2013

We Look Like This

We Look Like This, Dan Burt's first full collection (which includes poems from, and greatly expands on, pamphlets he has published in the past five years with Michael Schmidt's Lintott Press), meets his own childhood and family history head-on. Born to a violent if admirably driven father whose parents escaped murder by Ukrainian Cossacks, and a distant mother whose family were "tough Jews" living on the edge of the law, Burt's was a gritty upbringing in South Philadelphia. We Look Like This maps his escape from these harsh environs - working as a youngster in the family butcher's shop from dawn till dusk; viewing his parents' marriage as "a bare knuckle fight to the death" - first to Cambridge, England, where he read English, then to Yale and a career in law. Mixing working-class roots and mean streets with college cloisters and Ivy League privilege, Burt is forever trying to make sense of his many-sided identity, though in a comm…

Angry and Forgiving At the Same Time

from an interview with William Matthews, by Peter Davison, two weeks before his death in November 1997

PD. What have you specifically learned from Horace, from Martial?

WM. Horace and Martial are interested in how humans interact. What matters to these poets is what is most vivid to us and what energizes us most on a daily basis -- a life defined by the ways in which humans are social animals, the ways in which we suffer from being social animals. From Martial, I learned foremost how important it is to find ways to be angry with human folly and failure and to be forgiving of it at the same time, because you know when your turn to be riddled with folly comes around that you'll do a great job.

From Horace, I learned that pleasure in itself and friendship in itself are valuable subjects, period. They don't need to be compared to anything. You don't need to go through the masquerade of the Renaissance, for example, in which romantic love is important because it imitates divine…