Gerald Burns is a leading practitioner of the long-lined, thickly textured verse. “These / long lines are long life to us, go back to Kenneth Irby’s ‘A Set’ I saw first in / a flyer from Lawrence, KS where Burroughs chats with Cage whose spitbubbles / may remind us with Zukofsky the heart of the bluebonnet’s black. Anyone can learn from anything,” he writes, and as these lines from “For J. R. Here” indicate, Burns has learned much: his long, dragnet lines display a lifetime of wide reading and close observation from an astonishing range of subjects.
Widely appreciated as a poet’s poet, Burns’s appeal is best summarized by one of his fellow poets (Erik Rieselbach): “In an age when most poetry—across the spectrum—is merely decorative, a writer who acknowledges that it is a serious and unique mode of inquiry could not be more welcome. Gerald Burns writes poems that are tough-minded and engaging, palpable and theoretical, allusive and immediate, and above all suffused with the delight of a fiercely intelligent mind mapping out the cultural manifold . . . Burns moves effortlessly among the seemingly most disparate particulars; the effect is kaleidoscopic, even dizzying. But though these poems are dense, they are never obscure, and they generously reward the patient reader with flash after flash of illumination.”