Robert Burt’s Poetic Blend of Pastoral and Romantic

The poet weaves themes of love and loss, wandering and discovery

The seasonal changes of the land, sea and the skies above feature large and luminous in Robert Burt’s anthology Even Lovers Drown, published 14 years after his last book of poetry. Divided into six sections, this latest collection comprises 44 poems from his four previous books of poetry, in addition to 13 new poems including the title poem, a line taken from WB Yeat’s poem, “The Mermaid.

Inspired by the natural world, Burt’s poetry blends the pastoral with the romantic, weaving themes of love and loss, wandering and discovery.

Many of Burt’s poems read like hymns to the “ancient, breathing, wild hills” and the “never-ending shorelines” (as he notes in his introduction) of his beloved island home, as in the poem “Evening Service:”

In this nine o’clock/Watery purple afterglow/Everything is illuminated/Including me.
I’ve finally been confirmed/Here on the beach rock pew./The sunset is my communion/The water song is my hymn.
The sermon is written/On the curve of a seagull’s wing/Sailing into the crimson sky/Full of the next day’s hope.

Reflecting the adolescent musings in the untitled poems of the “The Boys of Summer: notes for a biography” section, Burt experiments with informal structure:

hot july rain/soft as a tongue/sounded its reggae rhythm/upon the cabin roof/boys of summer
slept like babies/in long jamaican dreams/where the drumbeat moon/hung like a big heart pumping light/across the onyx lake

Some of Burt’s word pairings are unusual yet apt, such as the “harshly snug cove” describing “Grates Cove in November.”

And, like finding a piece of translucent blue beach glass, there are the occasional gems, among the oft sentimental, such as the final line of the poem “November Harbour,” where he writes:

The sea is left alone to beat itself to death.

Not unpredictably, after a considerable writing career, Burt takes a backward glance in several of the new poems. Ruminating on his life as a poet he writes:

And I drank with praise and plenty,/I feared I had too much,/but the poetry came like a talon,/and I craved her raven touch.

Even Lovers Drown: New and Selected Poems
Robert Burt
Innisfree Press

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Alison Dyer's poetry collection I’d Write the Sea Like a Parlour Game is a finalist for the JM Abraham Poetry Award.

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