Stephen Burt, Poetry’s Cross-Dressing Kingmaker – NYTimes.com

When I asked Stephen Burt’s parents if they worried about him when he was young, Burt’s father, Jeff, replied by asking me if I was Jewish. I told him I was. “Well,” he said, “to ask Jewish parents if they were worried about their children — it is a statement of fact! But were we more worried about Stephen than about the other children? The answer is yes.” As a boy, Stephen, the eldest of their four sons, was, in his dad’s words, “extremely precocious”; his parents’ reminiscences make him sound lovable but very intense, with interests out of step with other boys his age. His mother, Sandra, told me that in third grade he wrote an essay about “a little boy whose mother forced him to go out and play.”

“What would happen to him?” Jeff remembered thinking. “What would he become? Who would marry him?”

What he became was, among many other things, one of the most influential poetry critics of his generation. Burt is 41, a professor of English at Harvard, heir to the intellectual mantle long held by giants like Harold Bloom and Helen Vendler. He is also an avid science-fiction fan, the founder of a short-lived indie-pop zine, an authority on women’s basketball, the husband of Jessie Bennett, with whom he has two sons, and an unabashed cross-dresser. Bennett often helps Burt pick the women’s clothes that he wears for special occasions — parties, poetry readings — though he says that he never dresses like a woman in the classroom. (“For the same reason that you wouldn’t teach in a tuxedo,” he says, “because the classroom is about the poem, not about you.”)

via Stephen Burt, Poetry’s Cross-Dressing Kingmaker – NYTimes.com.

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