Reviews and Interviews

The Global Calcuttan - Skype Interview

October 2014

Dan Burt is interviewed on Skype by Sujoy Veda. Click here to see this interview.

The Eagle - In Conversation with Michael Schmidt and Dan Burt by Josh Hinton and Ed Kendall

September 2014

It is early March. The warm sun is making its first appearance of the year, and the air is full of the shouts and laughter of inexperienced punters. In a bright and airy New Court set, second-year English students Josh Hinton (2012) and Ed Kendall (2012) meet with Johnian poets Michael Schmidt and Dan Burt to discuss everything from lust to rage, and from caesuras to the true purpose of poetry.

Michael Schmidt is Writer in Residence at St John’s, Editorial and Managing Director of Carcanet Press, and Editor of literary magazine PN Review. He has published seven volumes of poetry and numerous works of fiction and nonfiction, including The Novel: A Biography, released in May 2014.

Dan Burt (1964) is an Honorary Fellow of St John’s. He read English here and then graduated from Yale in 1969, before going on to a long and highly successful career in law. His first volume of poetry was published by Carcanet in 2008, and he has since published four more, along with a memoir, titled You Think It Strange, of his formative years in Philadelphia.

Times Literary Supplement - Mean Streets and Wetland Choirs by Ben Wilkinson

10th August 2012

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 commendably unsolipsistic way. "All the dark years haunt me", reflects one poem, "Not what happened.../but warnings missed/because I could not gauge what others felt".

The Times - Odes To A Harsh Planet by Elaine Feinstein

26th May 2012

Review of We Look Like This - Carcanet Press

South Philadelphia gave Dan Burt a brutal childhood: as a five-year-old his father punched him in the face; as a teenager he had to work in the family butcher's shop; his mother came from a family of gangsters. The trajectory of his escape from this background, through the University of Cambridge and Yale Law School is unusual enough; the poetry he is writing now is remarkable.

This is a major debut. Burt's tough, terse language explores the human truth reached when all protective skin is stripped away:

We look like this after things fall apart...
The painting is the autopsy report.

The Literateur Online - Review of We Look Like This by Alastair Beddow

30 July 2012

What is most surprising about Dan Burt’s poetry and prose collection We Look Like This is how familiar it feels. This is surprising not because somebody of 70 years of age with a distinguished legal – rather than literary – career behind him should have published such an assured first full-length collection in later life because, given how much of the volume deals with Burt’s American-Jewish upbringing, his work reads much like that of his European contemporaries: Michael Longley, Paul Muldoon and Thomas Kinsella all come to mind. Like these great poets, Burt’s work finds its voice through allusions to classical mythology, to poetic forebears such as Yeats and Tennyson, or to European art. And just as two of that Irish trinity have utilised their extensive time spent in America as a way of writing about time spent back home, Burt’s work makes that transatlantic journey in reverse.

Its familiarity, however, can also belie the subtlety of Burt’s writing. There are several poems in this volume that could undoubtedly hold their own next to works by Longley, Muldoon or Kinsella. ‘Winter Mornings,’ for example, takes the form of a bitter-sweet tromp l’oeil in which mirage morphs into memory; the momentary mis-sighting of a figure in Hyde Park leaves the poet ‘Like a drawn watch too long at sea’ to recall the pain of a distant love.

Poetry Book Society - Review of Certain Windows by George Szirtes

June 2011

Dan Burt's book, Certain Windows, offers a mirror to Robert Lowell's 1959 book, Life Studies, in that it is directly set in the world of the poet's childhood and is written in muscular verse (often but not always rhymed, moving on light feet around the hard core of pentameter) with a long central section in prose. Burt's prose piece, ‘Certain Windows' parallels Lowell's '91, Revere Street'. The very form of the book - poems, prose, poems - invites comparison.

Burt comes from quite a different background from Lowell. Lowell's Boston ancestors could be traced back to the Mayflower and include politicians, poets, theologians: people generally referred to as Brahmins. Like Lowell's family the Burts, who were not yet Burts but Russian Jews, arrived by boat, but much later, in 1915 or 1916, grandfather Zaida escaping pogroms and conscription into the Russian army. Those members of the family who remained behind were killed. Ancestry is important. Burt's central section begins with a nod to both Wordsworth and Lowell, declaring: ‘We trail no clouds of glory when we come'. The first numbered section within the prose is quite knowingly titled: Ancestral Houses.