Stephen Burt: A critical star in Harvard’s literary galaxy

by Victoria Aschheim

Stephen Burt is "the finest critic of his generation" – Lucie Brock-BroidoStephen Burt can set you on the road to poetic connoisseurship with his oceanic depth of knowledge about the universe of poetry. A poet himself, the Harvard professor is a prolific writer of poetry criticism that deeply informs. He has compared his role as poetry critic to the importance of good instructions for home-assembled furniture. His essays on poetry provide an introductory foundation for the joy of reading poetry.In his own words, poetry criticism "might be defined as all the kinds of writing whose immediate effects is to help people read poems – poems that help us, as Samuel Johnson put it, ‘better to enjoy life or else better to endure it.’" Burt explains that the role of poetry criticism can include: "line by line exegeses; general introductions to formal and intellectual tools; explanations of how poem interact with other parts of culture; refutations of common fallacies or bad arguments; and even jokes."Having benefited, myself, from Professor Burt’s foundational expositions on American poetry which set the student free to research and excavate many layers of meaning of poems, both classical and contemporary, and to come to her own conclusions, I invite you to enjoy Professor Burt’s special poetry reading for the Harvard Arts Beat, and my conversation with him as a poet-critic. [] [] [] [] Professor Burt has had guiding spirits at Harvard, and is himself a guiding spirit to others at Harvard and join me here in March for Part II of this feature where you will meet Professor Burt as poetry pedagogue in the University setting.