Stephen Burt, “Hyperborea”

after Pindar

Once past the man-high teeth
and the disintegrating ice
that separate human lands
from the gods’ secret territory, what Herakles found
was nothing on first sight worth even half a breath
to the sort of fortune-tellers and singers who vaunt
celebrities’ pleasures, who promise new heroes the solace
of willing nymphets and smooth-shouldered boys,
then give them marble busts and sapphire crowns.
Behind the curtain of snows
lay temperate air and a firepit, and
what heroes, after labors, really want:
a couple of apple trees; a brook; warm shade where hardwoods stand;
a stump for a table; crisp weather, a place to sit down.

“Hyperborea” is from Stephen Burt’s new collection, Belmont. The book also has two poems that originally ran in The Awl (“Belmont Overture” and “Kendall Square in the Rain”), a poem from Slate (“Dulles Access Road”), and, from Boston Review, the poems “Color Theory” and “Butterfly with Parachute.”

Burt appeared at Brooklyn’s Book Court as part of the 2013 “Graywolf Poetry Tour,” and I took the opportunity to interview him for my other website, The Handsell with Ron Hogan. I told him I was a fan of Philip Larkin, August Kleinzahler, and Carl Phillips; he came up with some poets I might like to read next. I’ve been doing this with other writers and indie booksellers lately—it’s been a lot of fun! If you’d like to tell me some books you like, I may be able to line up some recommendations for you…

4 August 2013 | poetry |