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Advice from the Lights

Stephen Burt
I had become convinced
that character was fate.
Almost anything could result in tears.
I wanted to stay at Alison’s house overnight
and wake up as a new girl, or a new mutant,
or a new kind of humanity, engineered
to travel at more than half the speed of light,
but I wasn’t allowed. My bedtime and I were both eight.

—from “My 1979”
Advice from the Lights is a part nostalgia, part confusion, and part an ongoing wondering: How do any of us achieve adulthood? And why would we want to, if we had the choice? This collection is woven from and interrupted by extraordinary sequences, including Stephanie poems about Stephen’s female self; poems on particular years of the poet’s early life, each with its own memories, desires, insecurities, and pop songs; and versions of poems by the Greek poet Callimachus, whose present-day incarnation worries (who doesn’t?) about mortality, the favor of the gods, and the career of Taylor Swift. The collection also includes poems on politics, location, and parenthood. This is Burt’s most accomplished collection, an essential work that asks who we are, how we become ourselves, and why we make art.

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Stephen is sometimes Stephanie and sometimes wonders how his past and her past are their own collective memory

About the Author

Stephanie  Burt
Credit: Jessie Bennett
 Stephanie Burt is Professor of English at Harvard University and the author of several previous books of poetry and literary criticism, among them Advice from the Lights, Belmont and Close Calls with Nonsense, as well as The Poem Is You.
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  • “For all its insights into trans experience, Advice from the Lights is the brightest and most inviting of Burt’s collections for readers of any, all, and no genders.”Boston Review
  • “Deft, bubbly, poised, polished, consistently witty, affecting an air of light verse, very composed.”Lambda Literary
  • “Burt mines a nearly limitless store of empathy, lending voices to living things and inanimate objects alike.”Library Journal, starred review
  • “[A] touching portrait series of self and family. . . . These poems achieve something rare, helping readers to ‘learn/how to live in this world’ more attentively.”Publishers Weekly
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