Graywolf Press 2013
Belmont (Graywolf Press, 2013) is a book of poems written by both a grownup and a child and each seem quite aware of the other. This split-consciousness, if you will, hangs around most of the poems, but not in a tense or obvious way, but from afar, after one has put the book down. Belmont is written by a confident adult, with the disassociated charm of a child playing alone: the one doesn’t need to be validated by us, while the other doesn’t know we’re even in the room. This is the book’s strange disposition: a warm and loving indifference. When young poets are eager to impress, they often just bully the reader with novel forms and precious philosophy. This sort of aesthetic nervousness doesn’t exist in Belmont. Instead, Stephen Burt‘s virtue of clarity is reflected back to us in a number of ways: the humbling attention to craft, the amicable but rambunctious diction, and being unapologetic about subject-matter that is both public and private. How many poets have the guts to write about the suburbs and family life without either great cynicism or great sentimentality? Burt’s poems remind us, without ever saying it (which would be indulgent) that for the soul to be quiet and easy, a person has to suffer through nostalgia. Belmont, however, spares us most of that suffering because the poet is looking at what is right in front of him – flourishing – even if the present is sometimes the past. Throughout the book, Burt puts an interesting burden on a reader of contemporary poetry because in order to find pleasure in the poems, one must allow the poems to befriend them, and for them to befriend you, one must be willing to be as vulnerable and mature as Burt is throughout Belmont.