Burkard is a poet whose life experiences—as a professor, psychiatric aide, and alcoholism counselor— inform his heartfelt, dreamlike poetry. Coming out of a lineage which could be said to include William Carlos WILLIAMS and Robert CREELEY, Burkard's straightforward address and frequent use of confessional detail are complicated by dislocated syntax and lyrical repetition. A poet who is as interested in the musical and visual arts as he is in literature, Burkard has collaborated with painters and composers and has written artists from Leo Tolstoy to Paul Klee into his poems as familiars. As a teacher of poetry at workshops, universities, and colleges across the country, Burkard has been known for his liberating, inclusive approach to thinking about writing, which emphasizes accessing the uncensored self and a reliance on first drafts and on instinct.
Born in Rome, New York, Burkard attended Hobart College and received an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa in 1973, where his peers included Barrett WATTEN, Denis Johnson, and Tess GALLAGHER, his second wife. His first book was published in 1977. By 2001 he had published nine volumes of poetry and received numerous honors, including a Pushcart Prize (2000). His work was included in the annual publication Best American Poetry in 1989 and 2001.
Marked by an insistence on truth, Burkard's poems also acknowledge that truth often comes in disguise. His work is heavily populated with ghosts past and present—friends, relatives, lovers, historic figures, versions of the self—and haunted by trains, rain, night, the Moon, and the sea—the shadowy, mysterious side of life. In a typically candid move, he confronts the issue of his recurring themes in the poem "Why Do You Think the Sea Is So Central to Your Writing?" (2001): "what sideways / sea or life am I trying to steer / clear of."
Burkard is similarly introspective when writing about his recovery from alcoholism: "I knew more deeply than before I was in trouble with drinking" ("How I Shaded" ). While this and other poems traffic in melancholy, Burkard's poetry nonetheless often reads as an affirmation of love and joy, both spiritual and physical, manifested through honesty, as in the poem "Wanted" (2001): His desire is to create a poetry that "would talk to you only, / to tell you where I have been."
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