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on finding one's alter ego and on running out of time

So this morning I promised that my last post here would say something about Marisa Crawford's rather amazing book The Haunted House, which I picked up a few months ago (it came out in 2008) and which I've fallen for hard: fallen for, moreover, in a way that makes it difficult for me to tell the difference between responding to the poems as poems, to the arrangements and intonations of language, and responding to the figure behind the poems, the girl I was not, "a phantom, a direct descendent," as Crawford writes. "I spent Christmas upstairs, painting candy cane stripes on my nails."

That post, had I time to write it, would have wondered whether Crawford's book was the sort of thing that I predicted when I wrote a book about adolescence in modern poetry, six years ago. It would have asked whether these poems, most of them in prose, have the subtlety or the staying power of the best poems on similar subjects by Laura Kasischke or by Liz Waldner, for example (I think that they might not, but I'm not yet sure); it would have recommended Crawford unreservedly to anyone with an interest in her special topics, or in the Gurlesque, a movement in which she only sort of belongs. It would have said something about the special freedom afforded by prose poems nowadays. And it would have said something about adulthood; who needs it? Adults do, as it turns out, or most of us do (if we have kids, as I do, our kids often need us to act like adults) but our poems don't. Our poems can be teenaged forever, if we can make their teens interesting enough.

That's what I wanted to say. It's what Crawford says, too- to quote another one of her prose poems: "What's a pyramid but the girl on top? What are you without your boyfriend? What's an elephant without its sagging trunk? What's your locker combination, without your memory?"

And that's where I stop, because we are out of time: National Poetry Month is almost over, and it's gone too soon, just as the high points of our teen years may be gone too soon (while the low points take far, far, far, too long), just as almost any experience we can make into lyric (whatever "lyric" means) at once takes forever, and seems to be gone too soon. Right now I have to go away and hear Timothy Donnelly read, and by "have to" I mean "very much want to." Go read his work too. I'll have more to say about Crawford's work elsewhere, with luck, and I'll keep on reading it; and I don't want to go away for the year without saying how grateful I am to the Harriet staff, to the Poetry Foundation, and to everybody else with whom we've been able to share this space. Watch this space.

Originally Published: April 30th, 2012

Stephanie (also Steph; formerly Stephen) Burt is a poet, literary critic, and professor. In 2012, the New York Times called Burt “one of the most influential poetry critics of [her] generation.” Burt grew up around Washington, DC and earned a BA from Harvard and PhD from Yale. She has published four collections of poems: Advice...