Stephen Burt | Why People Need Poetry

Stephen Burt | Why People Need Poetry

This month is national poetry month, along with that poets all over the world are participating in 30 for 30 where you write 1 poem a day each day for the entire month. I have watched almost every ted talk on youtube dealing with poetry and one that always intrigues me is the one I am posting today (it intrigues me because i nerd out on people and their motivations, more on that later)

Stephen Burt is a literary critic, poet and a professor, who teaches at Harvard University. The New York Times has called him “one of the most influential poetry critics of his generation.”

There have been a lot of conversations lately around the role of the critic in slam poetry, i wonder who or what will emerge as the Stephen Burt of our subculture.

Burt received significant attention for coining the term “elliptical poetry” in a 1998 book review of Susan Wheeler’s book Smokes in Boston Review magazine. This is how Burt defines the elliptical poet: Elliptical poets try to manifest a person—who speaks the poem and reflects the poet—while using all the verbal gizmos developed over the last few decades to undermine the coherence of speaking selves. They are post-avant-gardist, or post-“postmodern”: they have read (most of them) Stein’s heirs, and the “language writers,” and have chosen to do otherwise. Elliptical poems shift drastically between low (or slangy) and high (or naively “poetic”) diction. Some are lists of phrases beginning “I am an X, I am a Y.” Ellipticism’s favorite established poets are Dickinson, Berryman, Ashbery, and/or Auden. . .The poets tell almost-stories, or almost-obscured ones. They are sardonic, angered, defensively difficult, or desperate; they want to entertain as thoroughly as, but not to resemble, television.

In 2009, Burt wrote an essay called “The New Things” in which he invented a new category of American contemporary poets, which he calls “The New Thing.” Burt explains that these poets derive their new style from the likes of William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Gertrude Stein and George Oppen. This is how Burt loosely defines “The New Thing” poets: The poets of the New Thing observe scenes and people (not only, but also, themselves) with a self-subordinating concision, so much so that the term “minimalism” comes up in discussions of their work. . .The poets of the New Thing eschew sarcasm and tread lightly with ironies, and when they seem hard to pin down, it is because they leave space for interpretations to fit. . .The new poetry, the new thing, seeks, as Williams did, well-made, attentive, unornamented things. It is equally at home (as he was) in portraits and still lifes, in epigram and quoted speech; and it is at home (as he was not) in articulating sometimes harsh judgments, and in casting backward looks. The new poets pursue compression, compact description, humility, restricted diction, and—despite their frequent skepticism—fidelity to a material and social world. They follow Williams’s “demand,” as the critic Douglas Mao put it, “both that poetry be faithful to the thing represented and that it be a thing in itself.” They are so bound up with ideas of durable thinghood that we can name the tendency simply by capitalizing: the New Thing. . . Reference, brevity, self-restraint, attention outside the self, material objects as models, Williams and his heirs as predecessors, classical lyric and epigram as precedents: all these, together, constitute the New Thing.

Poets, for whom Burt claims that “The New Thing” label fits, include Rae Armantrout, Devin Johnston, Joseph Massey, Michael O’Brien, Justin Marks, Elizabeth Treadwell, and Graham Foust.

[Source Wiki]

Although a little corny, I still think it makes the point to presenter was trying to make. I think there are a ton of reasons why people need poetry and the more we drive the mission of Eternal Graffiti the more we hope those reasons will be clear.