Stephen Burt

  • Mother from Another Planet

    TOUSSAINT, ONE OF TWO SETTINGS for Nalo Hopkinson’s novel Midnight Robber (2000), is a high-tech planet settled and controlled by Afro-Caribbean emigrants from Earth who wanted to make a new world in their own image, “free from downpression and botheration.” Toussaint looks like fun, too, though it’s only going to feel like home if you are West Indian (that’s part of what its founders meant it to do): It has carnival season, and Junkanoo parade, and mangoes, and African-derived names for its technology (“eshu” for cybertracers, for example). Most people on Toussaint accept the benevolence,

  • No Rec Room of Her Own

    The chaotic, exuberant, vexatious poems of Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents (2009) exhibited the distractions, depletions, and exhilarations of a modern urban motherhood: Some sounded as if Zucker had composed them while shepherding her toddler through the subway, others as if she had made them up at the conclusion of a sleep-deprived night. It was an uncommonly honest, almost embarrassing poetry, one that seemed artless if you read it too fast, and yet one achingly aware of precedents: Zucker called one long poem “Hey Allen Ginsberg Where Have You Gone and What Would You Think of My Drugs?”

  • Too Loud a Solitude

    The best parts of Richard Powers’s new novel sound like many of the best parts of his other ten novels, which is to say that they don’t sound like novels at all: They are lyrical, serious explications of difficult, technical, even academic subjects, with plenty of real-world examples and proper nouns—put there for readers who don’t know the subject already—along with allusions, brushed over the top like icing, for readers who do. These passages not only explain complicated phenomena—how DNA shapes life by shaping proteins (The Gold Bug Variations), how programmers create neural networks (Galatea

  • culture January 26, 2011

    Callings by Carl Dennis

    Nobody, so far as I know, calls Carl Dennis a great innovator, and I would not trust anybody who did. Insofar as he has distinctive gifts—and he certainly does—they are gifts firmly opposed to great innovation, to major endeavors of any sort. It is in the minor efforts, the daily or weekly rewards and tasks that make up most of any life, that Dennis finds his métier.