On Thursday night, busy yet cozy Big Blue Marble Bookstore hosts two intriguing poets, Daisy Fried and Stephanie Burt. Both are parents, both are poets of wit and charm, yet both offer distinct voices and worlds.
Burt, a professor at Harvard, grew up in Washington, and was educated at Harvard and Yale. She is admired as both a poet and critic. “I’m really proud of my latest book, Advice from the Lights,” she says. “It feels like the book I have waited years to write. This book is the culmination of all the writing I’ve been doing since 1991. It’s the Act 5 of the comedy of those years.”
Some of that feeling may involve the fact that Stephanie Burt once was known as Stephen Burt. She says, “In the 1990s, I began telling people I felt like a woman and started writing about it. About a year ago, after I and my family got back from a trip to New Zealand, we sort of figured out that I was ready to transition and be myself all the time.”
Burt says these currents have always run in her poetry. We can feel them in “Paper Stephanie” from Advice from the Lights, when the speaker tells us, “I have been cut out / refolded, unfolded, and put back into a folder; / I have been lost and found and lost and found.” Note that last, hopeful word, found. The poems these days, Burt says, “are happier, more outward-looking, less frustrated.”
Fried is a Philadelphian, an accomplished poet, critic, and teacher, and, she says, a storyteller. “I use my life,” she says, “what’s around me. I write narrative poetry that involves places where domestic and political life intersect.”
She has an eye for people, their bearing in the world, as in “Jubilate south Philly: city fourteen.(Poem).” Written with echoes of Christopher Smart, it’s a delightful portrait of a young woman. “For I will consider how to be 14,” it begins. “For will you please not act like you know me? / For quit talking to me like I’m a kid.”
For if I am one, I am not the prettiest, just the one who holds my
shoulders farthest back, hems my uniform skirt the highest, so the
space between my kneesocks & skirt is exceeding pure, is good to think
on, if a boy would express himself neatly. For I know just how to
sneer to get a boy to like me.
Pretty much nails it. “Life is both terribly funny and terribly sad,” Fried says, and I like to capture all of that in my poetry as much as I can.”
What will they read Thursday night? “I pick the poems after I see the audience,” Burt says. “I have two kids, and many of my poems are really about parenthood, so I’m more likely to read poems about that if those are the cues I’m getting from the audience. Or some of my trans-identity poems, if those are the cues I’m getting.”
“They’re all going to be new poems,” Fried says. “I’m tired of the old ones. I may read one where I have to sing. If I sing badly, OK, that becomes part of the narrative. If I sing well, then that becomes part of it.”
So does the audience. You could do worse, much worse, than spend an evening with these two and become part of the narrative together.
Stephanie Burt and Daisy Fried
7 p.m. Thursday, Big Blue Marble Bookstore, 551 Carpenter Lane. Free. Information: 215-844-1870 or bigbluemarblebooks.com.