Essay

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“Winter here” (p. 92) is one of my favourite poems in Alice Burdick’s second book, Flutter, and stands as a kind of key piece for understanding Burdick’s unadorned, yet complex and conflicted, aesthetic.
The first lines, uncharacteristically, are wordy and romantic. Very un-Burdick, very ornamental. A lofty eye names the natural world with high literary sweep. We’re pinned back to the ground with “Snow crunch and the pickup over there/ creeps up the lengthy hill.” A narrator is not identified but “here” in the title and “over there” connect the action with a narrator in motion. She/he does not name self by pronoun yet but becomes implicit to the scene. Four lines in, the poem offers a hint that it knows what it is about in shifting registers: “The voice is a definite problem.” The impulse to make an image out of a perception is tricky. And out in quiet, eavesdroppable rural life, where you might need “hillbilly training”, you’re going to be heard and judged if you get too grand about your proclamations of beauty. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Your desire to turn the concrete into the sentimental will be scrutinized. The displaced self-teasing of “Do you have hillbilly training?” questions whether this voice belongs in this place, and the poem asks the narrator, and perhaps the reader too, whether authentic voice itself is considered problematic. The narrator pushes on to claim that, whether it’s a problem or not, the self undeniably exists: “Intrinsic voice in the hot air.” Here, “hot air” is both the romantic language of the first lines and winter’s balloon of breath coming out of the walker’s mouth, connecting the poem back to a speaking body. The poem’s next several lines move around poetry’s many questions: how do we record and document, as with a photograph, the real world and somehow capture the subjective garnishments we apply to any image, making it into “art”? The economy of the natural world—where the crow (ah, now we know for sure what that ululating creature was, and why there were spots in the narrator’s gaze) eats all surplus, stripping nature back to stasis—is a tough charge for a writer. We adorn the world by seeing it as more than it is, by fluttering our words over it. The crow, though, eats whatever it can, removing the flutter. As it flies, it is the flutter, “and that is the offering.”


“Winter here” (p. 92) is one of my favourite poems in Alice Burdick’s second book, Flutter, and stands as a kind of key piece for understanding Burdick’s unadorned, yet complex and conflicted, aesthetic.
The first lines, uncharacteristically, are wordy and romantic. Very un-Burdick, very ornamental. A lofty eye names the natural world with high literary sweep. We’re pinned back to the ground with “Snow crunch and the pickup over there/ creeps up the lengthy hill.” A narrator is not identified but “here” in the title and “over there” connect the action with a narrator in motion. She/he does not name self by pronoun yet but becomes implicit to the scene. Four lines in, the poem offers a hint that it knows what it is about in shifting registers: “The voice is a definite problem.” The impulse to make an image out of a perception is tricky. And out in quiet, eavesdroppable rural life, where you might need “hillbilly training”, you’re going to be heard and judged if you get too grand about your proclamations of beauty. Keep it simple. Keep it real. Your desire to turn the concrete into the sentimental will be scrutinized. The displaced self-teasing of “Do you have hillbilly training?” questions whether this voice belongs in this place, and the poem asks the narrator, and perhaps the reader too, whether authentic voice itself is considered problematic. The narrator pushes on to claim that, whether it’s a problem or not, the self undeniably exists: “Intrinsic voice in the hot air.” Here, “hot air” is both the romantic language of the first lines and winter’s balloon of breath coming out of the walker’s mouth, connecting the poem back to a speaking body. The poem’s next several lines move around poetry’s many questions: how do we record and document, as with a photograph, the real world and somehow capture the subjective garnishments we apply to any image, making it into “art”? The economy of the natural world—where the crow (ah, now we know for sure what that ululating creature was, and why there were spots in the narrator’s gaze) eats all surplus, stripping nature back to stasis—is a tough charge for a writer. We adorn the world by seeing it as more than it is, by fluttering our words over it. The crow, though, eats whatever it can, removing the flutter. As it flies, it is the flutter, “and that is the offering.”

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