Reviews and Interviews

Poet Dan Burt to read at Jesup

Lifestyle Section - 30 December, 2016

BAR HARBOR — Poet Dan Burt will read from a selection of his work and take questions about his writing at the Jesup Memorial Library on Saturday, Jan. 14, at 7 p.m. The reading is the first in the inaugural Bateau/Jesup Reading Series.

Burt, who lives most of the year in London but spends considerable time at his home in Bar Harbor, said he will concentrate largely on new work but likely will include some pieces from his latest published collection, “We Look Like This” (Carcanet, 2012).

“Dan Burt is an incredible poet, and we are excited to have him here to help kick off the 2017 Bateau/Jesup reading series,” said College of the Atlantic writing Professor Dan Mahoney.

The Poetry School - Poetry in Aldeburgh - Ben Rogers Interviews Dan Burt

20th October 2016

Ben Rogers: Having worked as a lawyer, to what extent do you wrestle with issues of truth, accuracy and authenticity when writing poetry?

Dan Burt: I labour almost obsessively over all three with an eye to creating in the reader the core of the experience I’m writing about. For example, when you first visit Yeats’ grave in Drumcliffe churchyard, it looks and “feels” exactly as he described it at the end of Under Ben Bulben. If you know the poem, you have a sense of having seen it before, which was my reaction when I saw it for the first time in 50 years ago. It’s this I strive for in whatever I write. (See Auerbach in a 2013 Telegraph interview on how and why he paints.)

I doubt it was long years lawyering that made me concerned with conveying the truth of what I write. However, as the aim of legal brief writing is to persuade using the facts of a matter, law practice helped me acquire what little skill I may have in marshalling facts to engender in the reader the experience I’m writing about.

Law practice did impel me to accuracy, since it’s one of the essential elements in all kinds of legal writing. I dislike pretence in anything; if my writing is inauthentic, it has no rationale for being, and one more reason to loathe myself.

Lastly, working with teams of people to write legal briefs made it much easier to profit from the critiques editors give me.

Read full interview with Dan Burt.

Commonweal Magazine - Interview with Dan Burt by James Hannan

August 2016

When I opened You Think It Strange, poet Dan Burt’s memoir of his journey from the gritty environs of South Philadelphia to the hallowed halls of Cambridge University, I casually assumed that it would be a feel-good, up-from-the-streets account of talent and determination overcoming childhood adversity.

Burt’s early life was indeed a triumph of wit and will. He managed to escape a world filled with violence and a culture that valued street smarts over book smarts, all the while knowing that just about everyone around him thought little of his prospects. That he made it out at all is extraordinary. That he became a successful lawyer and writer is virtually unimaginable.

After reading the book, I just couldn’t let his story go. How did a bred-in-the-bone South Philly guy navigate Cambridge and English society? What brought Burt back to the United States to attend law school, and how did his legal and writing career evolve? Why did he finally decide to renounce his U.S. citizenship, the final act of which is courageously described in his poem “Traitor”? I had the opportunity to connect with Dan recently, and he graciously agreed to share his post-Philadelphia story with Commonweal.

Read full interview with Dan Burt.

Commonweal Magazine - Review of You Thing It Strange by James Hannan

4th April 2016

'You Think It Strange'

A Memoir Spurred by Rage

If the journey of acclaimed poet Dan Burt from the mean streets of South Philadelphia to the halls of Cambridge University and Yale Law School were simply an inspirational saga of grit and determination, it would be just another offering in the Ragged Dick genre. What makes this slim volume such a fascinating read is not so much the tale as the telling, at once poetical and fiercely unsentimental; a telling that is animated by a deep-seated anger crackling just beneath the narrative; a telling that is signaled in the book’s title, a misremembered line from W. B. Yeats’s “Spur”:

You think it horrible that lust and rage
Should dance attention upon my old age;
They were not such a plague when I was young
What else have I to spur me into song?

You Think It Strange – Advance Comments on Publication of US Edition

“Dan Burt is a fine poet, and this memoir has all the sensitivity and vigilance you might expect from a writer with such a background. But his prose also has a robustness and documentary power that continually startles and engages. As it combines these things, You Think It Strange catches the strangeness of the world and makes it familiar.” - Andrew Motion

“Here are the broken contours, and vivid, vigilant prose, of a classic American life-story. You Think It Strange hauls up from the past Dan Burt’s upbringing in South Philadelphia. It depicts with unflinching clarity the immigrant experience of Jews from the Pale, the crime families in the Tenderloin, into one of which he was born, long hours of child labour, school, college, early love affairs, drag racing, dangerous fishing expeditions, a car crash, paralysis and recovery. It's a hard-edged, often violent story, unsparing about human nature, but through it shine Burt’s determination, intelligence, and the graft and craft of writing.” - John Kerrigan, Professor of English 2000, University of Cambridge

“There is nothing cozy about Dan Burt’s Jewish roots or the family of gangsters his mother came from. Yet this extraordinary memoir is far more than the story of his escape from a brutal childhood in South Philadelphia. In the UK, Burt has a growing reputation as a poet who can strip away the protective skin from the face of a harsh world, and it is the precision of his language which engages us here, too. It is not a dispiriting book. When Dan Burt’s father was convalescing after surgery, he learned to fish, and Burt too learned to relish the clean beauty of the Atlantic. This memoir takes us through his life with the same intensity.” - Elaine Feinstein

You Think It Strange is a memoir told in a voice that is precise, vivid and eloquent. It is about a young life lived in the tough streets of South Philadelphia, a place where religious devotion overlapped with crime and blows were as readily exchanged as words. But this is not a victim's story. Its precisions of memory reveal a life open to contingency and chance where violence and love could strangely overlap. It is also a vivid portrait of an emerging writer who discovers an unexpected source of freedom in the imaginative power of words.” - Jon Cook, Director of Creative & Performing Arts, University of East Anglia

"Dan Burt’s poetry, like his prose, explores themes unusual in contemporary literature, using a language that is precise, nuanced and mordant. And he risks traditional forms, his sonnets and quatrains mastered and masterful. The reader learns to trust this uncompromising, illuminating imagination which sees what is rather than projecting a might or would be." - Michael Schmidt OBE FRSL, General Editor, PN Review


Mosaic Magazine - Philadelphia Story - an observation by Michael Weingrad

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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