Everything Is Burning: Poems

Everything Is Burning: Poems

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by Gerald Stern

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"Ruthless and occasionally outrageous, Stern's literary songs are sharp, surprising, and unerring in their delivery."—Ploughshares, Editor's Choice
Gerald Stern calls upon his own life as a ground for his poems. Showing a horror of lies, treachery, and war, he offers redemption through stark language and plain speech.
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"Ruthless and occasionally outrageous, Stern's literary songs are sharp, surprising, and unerring in their delivery."—Ploughshares, Editor's Choice
Gerald Stern calls upon his own life as a ground for his poems. Showing a horror of lies, treachery, and war, he offers redemption through stark language and plain speech.

Editorial Reviews

San Francisco Chronicle
“Crackles with . . . exuberance, impatience, and an apparently consuming need.”
Philadelphia Inquirer
“Stern’s unadorned craftsmanship has few rivals in American letters.”
Publishers Weekly
Rather than, say, Illuminated? Forceful lines, brief lyric units and a sense of urgency make this 15th book from the much-honored Stern (American Sonnets, etc.) his most powerful new verse for a long while. As he has done before, Stern builds free verse around incidents from his own life and from his Jewish-American heritage. This time, however, the incidents go by much faster, and the tones include not his usual equable melancholy but anger, joy, uncertainty, frustration. One poem introduces "Me and my critic, me and my wife, a dog that/ doesn't love me"; another concludes, "let love take place/ in old cars, let them line up at the curb/ in Lovers' Lane and let the voyeurs go/ from car to car with flashlights." Sometimes just one sentence long, or one run-on nonsentence, the poems cover not only Stern's own experiences, but his impressions of heroes and antiheroes-Plath and Pound, Damon Runyon and Jack Ruby ("one of the wild Jews from East Dallas"). "How short it is, and raw and honest," he says in "Original Stern Country," one of a few poems that double as manifestos: his short, rough work fits especially well with the raw grief that emerges toward the end of the book, in the disturbing, and moving, "My Sister's Funeral." (June) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
KLIATT - Beth Lizardo
Although Gerald Stern is now in his 80s and this is his 14th collection of poems, his skill and wit are as sharp as ever. The poems in this collection are funny, rich, and boldly poignant; they glow with confidence and self-awareness. While Stern brushes on a variety of themes in his poems, he is fond of meditating on what seem to be his own life experiences—both past and present—but he regards them in a matter-of-fact, highly amused manner: "For the record there are two trees that followed / me most of my life and they are now in the dirt," he writes in the poem "Harold and I." One gets the impression that this is a writer who knows exactly what he wants to say and says it in the most direct yet clever way possible. Stern has a robust, noticeably American voice, which is especially evident in lines such as: "Never went to Birdland, so what, went to the Y, / danced all night for a quarter, girls sat down / on bridge chairs, can't remember if they were smoking." And he confronts issues that are not uncommon today: war and politics—"We have our own president, / not enough birds! / Too much obfuscation! / Who cares about your life, bastard hero?"; the path not taken—"what we call nostalgia is for the life we didn't live, so much for homesickness"; as well as the difficulties of aging—"it takes longer than it used to take / and I am tempted to climb the back stairs." Such themes, in conjunction with Stern's colloquial diction, result in poems that strike a chord right off the bat and remain with you long after you turn the page. A strong collection from a veteran American poet.
Library Journal
With his 15th poetry collection, Stern, now an octogenarian, continues in the unique voice fostered in his first volume, Pineys (1971). Poems pick up in the middle of a monolog ("Thought" begins: "After he left I turned to my cold soup/ for I was starving after so much talk") and Stern leaves little room for reflection. Run-on words and sparse punctuation seem to implore the reader to hurry. There's only one poem here with stanza breaks (the final and perhaps weakest one). The best are the ones that turn surreal before your eyes and compel rereading, as with "So one day when the azalea bush was firing/ away and the Japanese maple was roaring I/ came into the kitchen full of daylight and/ turned on my son's Sony." This is surrealism coupled with restraint; despite his rush, Stern is still holding on to the reins. But be warned: Just as you get your bearing, he takes off in a different direction. While this book might mystify the casual reader, those who truly appreciate poetry won't want to miss it.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with Soho Weekly News, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.

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Product Details

Norton, W. W. & Company, Inc.
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.60(w) x 8.20(h) x 0.40(d)

Meet the Author

Gerald Stern is the author of the National Book Award-winning This Time, the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize-winning Early Selected Poems, and other books. He has also been awarded the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the National Jewish Book Award, and the Wallace Stevens Award, among many other honors. He lives in Lambertville, New Jersey.

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Everything Is Burning 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Stern Vision: A Tree of Hemingway, Yeats, Proust Gerald Stern's new book, Everything Is Burning, is deft, profound, and perhaps the most enjoyable volume of poems composed in English in decades. It is its own masterwork, combining eight decades of Stern's life with his rollicking roving, greedy reading, and hilarious wisdom. He steals from all he is, which includes a Hemingway eye for exact detail and rich simplicity, Yeats's flow and incantation, and Proust's savage memory that makes a daguerreotype of each significant face, trait, and event. This erudite humanist makes you laugh at clumsy ethnicities, cry with compassion for a dead child sister, and wonder before a lily of the field near a Pocano traffic jam where a former wild student suddenly materializes standing on the highway. Elegant surprise follows elegant surprise. He is shock and paradox. A relentless moralist, the outrageously observant Stern is incapable of sternness and an enemy of pomp. When everything is burning, he's there, maybe holding a fedora, taking poetic notes, yet also in the mix to participate and feel. He has lived. And that means with Felonious Monk, cat piss in the South Bronx recording the horror of war camps or sitting alien on a steel railroad track, eating a sandwich. Before his appetite for the fascinating ordinary, lowdown and sordid, the rapturous Mahler, Ecclesiastes and a burned lilac, you must not skip a word, much less a poem, in this beautiful gathering. He takes you to his abode in 'Hemingway's House': I don't want to go to Hemingway's house, let him come to mine, walk in and we'll do The Killers at my kitchen table, he with his back to the Japanese maple, me with my back to the Maytag, ginger ale for one, white rum the other the dragon and the mayfly, death and the knowledge of death, Monk and Bartók all the same to me. I often wonder what makes Jerry run. Of course he has lust in his lungs, and his poetry breathes each year in new ways. Many of our best poets----Eliot, Cummings, Auden, Wordsworth---bloom, mature in their powers, and, alas, wither, becoming a mannerism of earlier word and spirit. Others---Rilke, Yeats, Stevens, or short-lived Wilfred Owen and Hart Crane--- dramatically gain strength. Stern grows. Like his contemporaries Ruth Stone and Stanley Moss, he reveals a cumulatively significant voice, which years magnify. But he remains the child man in his renewals. The vision, lust, and ethics have their unifying center in a bizarre passion, a passion that prevails whether he is out organizing unions, teaching, reading, giving readings, writing books. In those books, memoir, play, essay and poetry, Stern resorts to a spontaneous trickery and wins. With respect to poetic means, in the Eliot and James Wright tradition Gerald Stern sticks primarily to the line, to an enjambed line that stands alone and sparkles, whether with glass, trash, and even when he writes about a fisherman's worm in a can. Somehow the worms end up like stubby fingers in freezing sun-glare. He doesn't scatter his word pictures on the page. A lyrical blank verse determines prosody, and each word counts in lines that follow with compelling speed and rhythm. This perfection of spontaneity creates belief. Consider his poignant poem 'Sylvia' in which he moves from existential speculation to a re collection of his older sister in 1933, a year older than himself, who is dead at nine: Across a space peopled with stars I am laughing while my sides ache for existence it turns out is profound though the profound because of time it turns out is an illusion and all of this is infinitely improbable given the space, for which I gratefully lie in three feet of snow making a shallow grave I would have called an angel otherwise and think of my own rapturous escape from living only as dust and dirt, little sister. In an age of extreme commercial and political conformity, of stifling trash culture that holds dominion in the media, the