Public Poetry, Kevin Walzer's meditations on poetry, publishing, business, and other creative pursuits
Kevin Walzer, a poet, poetry publisher, husband, and father.
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John Burt's Victory is a complex book, composed of several long narrative/historical poems about conflict and courage. These poems are not easily read outside of their context, but these lines give a little of the flavor of Burt's method:
I. April 17, 1825
I had to write my father one more time,
My last not having opened up the springs
Of his compassion and his bank account.
I’ll bend as low as he can make me bend,
And lower still, if that is what it takes
To help him to persuade himself afresh
That he is not the man he knows he is.
If I pretend to honor his advice
When he pretends to have advice to give
He may forget himself just long enough
To render up just what paternal care
Might owe to filial duty fully done,
And fully done with, soon enough, I hope.
Pecunia non olet, though it be
All raised by taxing pisspots in the stews
Or selling wormy meal and raddled meat
To all my classmates at not quite a bargain
But cheap enough the College has to buy
And dear enough to pay part of his debts,
Except the debt of shame to me, which mounts
With every glance I get across the plate
I too am eating from, the last of all.
Perhaps old Mister Fox gave an advance
To keep our hopes alive about his will,
Or make my father soon forget he saw
That skinny hand just brush my sister’s breast
As if by accident another time
While he was grinning in my father’s face
And she looked far away and kept her peace
Like someone very used to keeping peace.
It’s like enough just at the very last
Old Fox will fox the devil of his soul
By dowering Savannah’s biggest church
With some new fund they’ll have to name for him
For doling Bibles to the Cherokees.
We put out honor like a plate of tarts,
And passed him samples, but he didn’t buy.
And so the steward’s son must beg his Pap
For some one else’s money for a coat,
All blue and buff, and buttoned up with brass
For him to cut a striking figure in
As President of the Euphradian Club
And this year’s Convocation Orator.
And for that hour, not one of them will mark
How rancid vittles bought that coat for me.
But what bought their fine coats? A draft on God?
Burt's poems have the narrative richness of a novella: they have complexity and depth not only in their lines, but in their characterization. It is unusual to read poetry these days that can bear such praise, but Burt's work qualifies.
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