Stephanie Burt

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Stephen Burt)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Stephanie Burt
Stephanie Burt headshot
Stephanie Burt, December 2018
Alma materHarvard University;
Yale University
GenreLiterary Criticism
Notable worksRandall Jarrell and His Age;
"The New Things";
"elliptical poetry"
SpouseJessie Bennett

Stephanie Burt is a literary critic, poet, professor at Harvard University and transgender activist. The New York Times has called her "one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation."[1][2]

Literary-critical work: new categories of contemporary poetry[edit]

Elliptical poetry[edit]

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:

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."[4] In addition to calling the subject of her review, Susan Wheeler, an important elliptical poet, she 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."[5]

The New Thing[edit]

In 2009, she wrote "The New Things", an essay in which she posits a new category of American contemporary poets, which she calls "The New Thing." These poets derive their style from the likes of William Carlos Williams, Robert Creeley, Gertrude Stein and George Oppen:

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.[6]

Poets whom she claims "The New Thing" label fits include Rae Armantrout, Michael O'Brien, Justin Marks, Elizabeth Treadwell, and Graham Foust.[7]


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

She has a particular interest in the work of the poet/critic Randall Jarrell, and Burt's book Randall Jarrell and His Age reevaluates Jarrell's importance as a poet. The book won the Warren-Brooks Award in 2002. In explaining her book's aim, 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."[8] In 2005, she also edited Randall Jarrell on W. H. Auden, a collection of Jarrell's critical essays.

In addition to writing about poets and poetry, Burt has published four books of her own poetry, Popular Music (1999), which won the Colorado Prize for Poetry, Parallel Play (2006), Belmont (2013) and Advice From The Lights (2017).

On occasion, she has been known to write for a popular audience on Slate and for The New Yorker, including an article about X-Men: Days of Future Past in the voice of Kitty Pryde.[9]


Burt earned a bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1993 and a Ph.D. from Yale in 2000 before joining the faculty at Macalester College, her first academic post, from 2000 to 2007. In 2007 she joined the teaching staff at Harvard University, where she became a tenured professor in 2010.

In 2017, she transitioned to female, changing her preferred name from Stephen to Stephanie.[10]




  • Burt, Stephen (1999). Popular music. Fort Collins: Center for Literary Publishing/University Press of Colorado.
  • — (2006). Parallel play. Graywolf Press.
  • — (2013). Belmont. Graywolf Press.
  • Advice from the lights: poems,Minneapolis, Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2017, ISBN 9781555977894, OCLC 965730495

List of poems[edit]

Title Year First published Reprinted/collected
Hermit crab 2013 Burt, Stephen (August 5, 2013). "Hermit crab". The New Yorker. 89 (23): 28.

Literary criticism[edit]


  1. ^ Oppenheimer, Mark. "Poetry's Cross-Dressing Kingmaker." The New York Times Magazine. 14 September 2012.
  2. ^ ""Kingmaker" to Gatekeeper". Harvard Magazine. 2017-10-06. Retrieved 2017-12-04.
  3. ^ Stephen Burt's Review of Smokes by Susan Wheeler
  4. ^ Stephanie Burt's Review of Smokes by Susan Wheeler
  5. ^ Stephen Burt's Review of Smokes by Susan Wheeler
  6. ^ Burt, Stephen. "The New Thing." Boston Review. May/June 2009.
  7. ^ Burt, Stephen. "The New Thing." Boston Review. May/June 2009.
  8. ^ Burt, Stephen. Randall Jarrell and His Age. New York: Columbia University Press, 2002.
  9. ^ Why Is Wolverine Doing All the Stuff I Already Did?
  10. ^ "Harvard poet Stephanie Burt's new volume explores gender, memory". Harvard Gazette. 3 November 2017. Retrieved 4 December 2017.

External links[edit]