Penny's poetry pages Wiki

Stephen Burt at the 2010 National Book Critics Circle Awards, 2011. Photo by David Shankbone. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Stephen Burt (born 1971) is an American poet, literary critic, and academic.[1]


Burt grew up in Washington, D.C.. He earned an A.B. from Harvard University in 1994, and a Ph.D. from Yale University in 2000.[1]

He joined the faculty at Macalester College, his 1st academic post, in 2000. In 2007 he joined the teaching staff at Harvard, where he became a tenured professor in 2010.

Burt has written for The New York Times Book Review, Poetry Review, Slate, The Times Literary Supplement, the Boston Review , the London Review of Books, and the Yale Review.

Burt has a significant interest in the work of the poet/critic Randall Jarrell, and his book Randall Jarrell and His Age re-evaluates Jarrell's importance as a poet. In explaining the aim of his book, Burt wrote, "Many readers know Jarrell as the author of several anthology poems (for example, 'The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner'), a charming book or two for children, and a panoply of influential reviews. This book aims to illuminate a Jarrell more ambitious, more complex, and more important than that."[2] In 2005, he also edited a book of Jarrell's critical essays, Randall Jarrell on W.H. Auden.

In addition, Burt has published 2 books of his own poetry, Popular Music (1999), which won the Colorado Prize for Poetry, and Parallel Play (2006).


Elliptical Poetry[]

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.[3]

Burt also adds that Elliptical poets are "good at describing information overload."[3] In addition to calling the subject of Burt's review, Susan Wheeler, an important elliptical poet, Burt also lists Liam Rector's The Sorrow of Architecture (1984), Lucie Brock-Broido's The Master Letters (1995), Mark Ford's Landlocked (1992), and Mark Levine's debut, Debt (1993) as "some groundbreaking and definitively Elliptical books."[3]

The New Thing[]

In 2009, Burt wrote an essay called "The New Things" in which he invented a new category of American contemporary poets that 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.[4]

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.[4]


  • Popular Music. Fort Collins, CO: Center for Literary Publishing, University Press of Colorado, 1999.
  • Parallel Play: Poems. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2006.
  • Belmont: Poems. Minneapolis, MN: Graywolf Press, 2013.


  • Randall Jarrell and His Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  • The Forms of Youth: Twentieth-century poetry and adolescence. New York: Columbia University Press, 2007.
  • Close Calls with Nonsense: Reading new poetry. Saint Paul, MN: Graywolf Press, 2009.
  • The Art of the Sonnet. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2010.


  • Randall Jarrell on W.H. Auden (edited with Hannah Brooks-Motl). New York: Columbia University Press, 2005.
  • Something Understood: Essays and poetry for Helen Vendler (edited with Nick Halpern). Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2009.

Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy WorldCat.[5]

Audio / video[]


Stephen Burt Why people need poetry

  • A Mice, a Brick, a Lovely Night : An exploration of poetry and comics (with Monica Young; CD). Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Instructional Media Services, 2011.[5]

See also[]


  1. 1.0 1.1 Stephen Burt,, Academy of American Poets. Web, Mar. 24, 2016.
  2. Burt, Stephen. Randall Jarrell and His Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 Stephen Burt, Review of Smokes by Susan Wheeler. Boston Review.
  4. 4.0 4.1 Burt, Stephen. "The New Thing." Boston Review. May/June 2009.
  5. 5.0 5.1 Search results = au:Stephen Burt, WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Sep. 5, 2015.

External links[]

Audio / video
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