Tag Archives: Stephen Burt

Stephen Burt’s Letter from NZ celebrates local poetry

Letter from New Zealand

by Stephen Burt
complete piece here at PN Review May-June, 2017
‘To live in Christchurch at the end of 2016 is to encounter, daily and seemingly everywhere, construction: cranes, scaffolds, burly workers in lemon-fluorescent vests, bright orange cones, PVC pipes jutting up from the ground, all of it part of the ongoing, city-wide multi-year recovery after the earthquakes of 2010-11. The fences and pits are a great inconvenience, a melancholy sight for those who grew up in what was (I’m told) the most sedate and stable of NZ cities. For me, on the other hand, the construction is mostly inspiration: I see a city that’s putting itself back together, a nation that has recognised (and chosen to pay for) a shared public good, while my own home country, the United States, is tearing itself apart.’

Poetry critic Stephen Burt gives public masterclass in Wellington with Bill Manhire

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Contemporary poetry has plenty to offer new readers, and plenty more for those who already follow it. Yet its difficulty—and sheer variety—leaves many readers puzzled and overwhelmed. The critic, scholar and poet Stephen Burt sets out to help.

In Close Calls with Nonsense: How to Read New Poetry, Victoria University of Wellington’s International Institute of Modern Letters (IIML) presents a public masterclass on poetry. Steered by Victoria University Emeritus Professor Bill Manhire, Burt will guide the audience through a number of contemporary poems by writers from the United Kingdom, United States and New Zealand, illuminating their methods and unfolding their pleasures. This event aims to introduce both tentative and long-time poetry readers to the rewards of reading new poetry. Burt will also give a reading of their poems.

Burt is Professor of Poetry at Harvard University. Their influential reviews and books have made them one of the leading critics of their generation, and their enthusiasm for new writing has helped to establish the careers of younger poets, and helped audiences to appreciate their work.

Burt’s 1998 essay ‘The Elliptical Poets’ is widely credited with identifying a new school of poetry. The book that followed, Close Calls With Nonsense (2009), includes an essay on James K. Baxter among those on more recent poets.

In their new book, The Poem is You, Burt explores 60 American poems. Publisher’s Weekly wrote that: “Burt’s many ways of looking at a poem will inspire new students and accomplished poets, especially as many of his meditations circle the question of what poetry does or should do: making readers pay attention, ask questions, and experience new things.”

In 2012 a NY Times interview hailed Burt as ‘Poetry’s Cross-Dressing Kingmaker’. Burt identifies as transgender, and their poetry chapbook All-Season Stephanie (2015) explores coming of age as it might have happened for their female alter-ego. Burt prefers to use the gender-neutral pronoun ‘they’.

Close Calls With Nonsense is presented by the IIML in partnership with City Gallery Wellington. Admission is free, with all welcome. The gallery will be open prior to the event for visitors to view the exhibition Cindy Sherman (exhibition entry charges apply).

What: Close Calls With Nonsense, with Stephen Burt and Bill Manhire
When: 5.30–7pm, Monday 12 December
Where: City Gallery, Wellington

For more information contact Chris Price on chris.price@vuw.ac.nz.