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Mosaic Magazine - Philadelphia Story - an observation by Michael Weingrad

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11th June 2015

Burt “was born the son of a semi-pro boxer turned butcher in South Philadelphia, and grew up in a family of immigrants, brawlers, cops, and crooks. Burt’s memoir conjures up this now vanished world of hardscrabble, Jewish Philadelphia in a poet’s prose, quick and sharp as boxing jabs, with passages of bruising lyricism. ....

If this were a New York or Chicago memoir, it would no doubt end with the buoyant steps of a young man leaving for England. But it is a Philadelphia story—and so it ends instead with a sixteen-year-old pregnant girlfriend, a miscarriage, and a car crash that left Burt in traction with a broken neck and his passenger, a beloved La Salle professor, with lifelong brain damage. Our author gets out of Philadelphia, but he carries its scars. ....

Yet in the roiling pages of You Think It Strange, as well as in many of his poems, this Philadelphia Jewish intellectual returns to his earliest, most formative, and most painful experiences in order to explain why, as he writes, “if a lover raises her hand to caress me unexpectedly, I flinch.” The past pulls fiercely at us from beneath the waves, and we hold onto the line with bloody hands.”

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