My father in his moonface: what thirty tedious years of work built.
Mountains rest in their slow gray curve, a velvet blanket of poplars poured over top.
These things are warm coin in a cold hand,
as the sick sun bobs around a far shore of trees: hard, plastic, and real.
Spindly fingers of rivers stretch along the hills, as though securing them in place,
imposing a wet grip on the land. Tiny chokehold and old whiff of fire.
How many men have died face up in a field in this corridor of Virginia. How many
have confused small things for love.
The snakes in the woodpile do not fault us for our technology.
The grouse on the road ambles along.
All blades are singing here. Their mouths wide open.
Copyright © 2019 by Libby Burton.
All rights reserved.
Reproduced by Poetry Daily with permission.
Libby Burton is a senior editor at Henry Holt; previously, she was an editor at Twelve/Grand Central. She earned a BA as part of the Area Program in Poetry Writing from the University of Virginia and an MFA from Columbia University. Her poetry has appeared in Atlas Review, Denver Quarterly, Guernica, Juked, Meridian, North American Poetry Review, Painted Bride Quarterly, and Tin House, among others. She is a recipient of the Stephen Dunn Prize and an Amy Award from Poets & Writers. She lives in Brooklyn, was born in Pennsylvania, and raised in Virginia.
Libby Burton’s brilliant debut is the winner of the 2017 Saturnalia Books Poetry Prize.
At the core of Libby Burton’s highly anticipated debut poetry collection, Soft Volcano, are the vivid details underpinning the relationships we hold dearly in our lives. A feminist force, highly wrought and impressionistic, surges from these intensely lyric distillations that show us what we look like standing in the hallways of the museum of lost love—where we stand, how our hair looks, what marks of woe and time are left upon the body after love is strained or abandoned. Soft Volcano is a book of vivid and crushing lyric poems, each one a swell of danger, beauty, and truth.
“Precise and haunting, these deliciously imagistic poems trace a line between moon and inner landscape, cathedral and body, eternity and family, love and the ghosts of adolescent memory.”
“Nobody this full of heart can be truly fearless—Libby Burton transfigures fears into inquiries, toward the intimate work of understanding. In this voluptuous and shining book, Burton places desire on the edge between revelation and annihilation. She learns as she goes, revealing equal parts eros, despair, and a visceral yearning for the wild, weird moments which she then so generously offers her readers.”
“Libby Burton negotiates the minefields of domesticity, sexuality, and an examined inner life with her own brand of Dickinsonian lability. The result in Soft Volcano is a vertiginous metaphysics that marries intelligent verve with sensory verge.”
—Lisa Russ Spaar
“Libby Burton’s Soft Volcano is a beautiful, strange and luminous book. Its language is so lush, so fertile, so wonder-full: ‘The sky nearly lickable in its buffed blackness.’ Oh I love that! And I love that the music of these poems is one of the stays against the sorrow and heartbreak they are also made of. As she writes in another poem: ‘the pulsing evening would contain both lilac and bird death.’ That’s about right. I feel lucky for this book in the world.”
“Libby Burton’s exciting debut cycles between eros—‘the weird lust of the everyday’ (from ‘Bottle of Blues’)—and thanatos, as in the unexpected declaration, ‘A dead child is my unnamed god, dusty as a pantry’ (from ‘We Are Married’). Burton casts out long, confident lines, one after another, each with a baited hook at the end. Readers will be reeled in by the collection’s stark agitations of the soul, quiet violences grounded by a contemporary vernacular and wit.”