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Victory, Poems by John Burt

John Burt's Victory is a suite of narrative poems exploring the nuances of conflict, of wins and losses, and survival. Transcending the merely lyric, these poems have the narrative depth and richness of a novella. In an age of lyrics and autobiography, Victory is unusual in the way it hews to the older traditions of narrative and storytelling.

Sample Poems by John Burt

“History—‘what really happened’—can be challenging material for the poet, but in the expert hands of John Burt it yields consistently fine results. Written in some of the most deftly-crafted blank verse of our time, these narratives focus chiefly on war, and thus on human nature in extremity, on valor and suffering, and on the drama of moral choice as it plays out against a backdrop of potential or actual conflict. Burt’s poems are rooted in the past he knows in such remarkable detail, but their relevance for us now, in an already war-torn new century, is as striking as their high level of artistry.”—Robert B. Shaw

“John Burt’s Victory is an extraordinary book of four major poems that intricately fuses history and psychology. The fusion is unique, though Burt’s authentic precursors are Robert Browning and Robert Penn Warren. The book begins with a vision of the Maine hero of Gettysburg, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, at the close of the Civil War. A dark sequence, almost Faulknerian, follows, in which a Southerner undergoes the guilty self-realization of miscegenation.

“The title-poem is a grim celebration of the struggle between a heroic Liberty Ship and a U-boat in the stormy Atlantic of January 1944. Strongest of all is the odyssey of the Connecticut poet-diplomat Joel Barlow, who gives us the daemonic horror of Napoleon’s retreat from Russia. Throughout the volume, John Burt manifests a cognitive power and narrative control very rare in contemporary poetry.”—Harold Bloom

“In a time of war, John Burt invites us to cast our eyes back into American and European history to consider the relationship between the key words ‘victory, freedom’ and ‘death.’ Robert Frost would approve the blank verse of these poems, and Robert Browning would understand the balance of human sympathy and clever artistry needed to animate these half-real, half-imagined people from the past. Full of feeling and the blood of American history, this is a brave heroic poetry.”—Langdon Hammer

Victory is a victory: a triumph of story-telling, and of moral and imaginative engagement with history. I couldn’t stop reading: the tales are gripping, and the verse is lean, supple, swift, and so thoroughly voiced and seen that one hardly senses it as verse except in its powerful forward momentum. Burt places us at key moments of conflict and awareness: Joshua Chamberlain’s nightmare reflections after Lee’s surrender (‘Ahead lay Washington, half swamp, half shrine’); the diary of a corrupt, pre-Civil War South Carolina politician fearing for his slave children; a grimly riveting account of a battle between a U-boat and a Liberty ship in 1944; and the eerie sequence of letters that track Joel Barlow, the poet from Connecticut, to his improbable death in Napoleon’s retreat from Moscow. Each of the poems turns the idea of victory over and over, asking what it costs, what it proves, what it wins, what stoic dignity survives utmost degradation or trial. Whether he is observing a North Atlantic wave like a wall of steel, or a raven pecking the eyes and nose off the frozen face of a Grenadier, Burt takes us into the heart of action. If Americans think ‘history will happen somewhere else,’ as Barlow fatuously imagines before he meets his own history, Burt will startle us into thinking again. It’s about time (in every sense).”—Rosanna Warren

“John Burt’s brilliant tetrad of historically-based narrative poems is unique in the current return of serious poetry to the telling of tales, for the way in which it forms and projects the voices of its speakers, both fictional and, historical (as in the case of the early nineteenth-century poet and diplomat Joel Barlow encountering Napoleon’s retreat from Russia.) These chronicles of matters surrounding the Civil War, merchant ships in WWII and the War of 1812 are commanding not only because of the historical knowledge informing them, but for the poet’s masterful use of his own mode of blank verse to give an original tone, pace and vividness to each of his recountings.”—John Hollander

John Burt teaches at Brandeis University. His previous collections of poetry include Work without Hope (Johns Hopkins, 1996) and The Way Down (Princeton, 1988). He is also editor of the award-winning Collected Poems of Robert Penn Warren (LSU, 1998) and Warren's Selected Poems (LSU, 2001).

ISBN: 978-1933456607, 92 pages, $17.00

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