Night of the Grizzly

Night of the Grizzly by Michael Burns

July 2012, 6 x 9, 78 pages, $10.95 paper



What poets are saying about Night of the Grizzly:

Poetry pleases for many reasons. It entertains. It affirms. It prepares. It chronicles a life we want to know. That’s all here. Michael’s wily little poem “Snake” summarizes his way: “Truth is so tight/ they can only crawl out of it.” Dickinson would have liked his severity, Ransom his delight in paradoxes, and me, well I like his hand with words that keep surprising me, the way he tells a human tale you wouldn’t wish on an enemy and finds in it, as Frost reminded us we must, the thing we knew and did not know we knew.

   -from the Introduction by Dave Smith, Elliot Coleman Professor

     of Poetry, The Writing Seminars, Johns Hopkins University

Night of the Grizzly is that saddest of literary genres, a posthumous collection of verse. It is heartbreaking to realize that we will have no more poetry from Michael Burns.  Fortunately for those of us who admire his work, he has left us a clear-eyed and truthful record of his final years. Poems like “Testify” and “We Have These Cancellations” already read like classics and reflect the bleak honesty of this volume and transfigure its dread into something we can only call joy.

   –Mark Jarman, author of Bone Fires: New and Selected Poems

In his Nobel Prize speech, William Faulkner referred to “ . . . the human heart in conflict with itself, which alone can make good writing because only that is worth writing about, worth the agony and the sweat.” In this posthumous poetry collection, fellow Southerner Michael Burns focuses on that very conflict, mostly within his own heart and, in doing so, reflects a defining struggle in all of us. These are poems of love and remorse, of striving and setback, of just trying to hang on. In them Burns demonstrates mastery of his craft, from free verse to sonnet sequence. And despite the “man-killing grizzly” within, he manages to remain affirmative, sometimes with wry humor. In a villanelle about a snow cancellation of the night shift at Tyson Chicken, Burns notes, “ . . . the world is born again./Kill and Evisceration need not come in.” These poems come from an intense life lived on the edge, one redeemed by a loving nature, a sharp eye, and a rich poetic gift.

   –William Trowbridge, author of Ship of Fool

In Night of the Grizzly, Michael Burns serves up his unsparing, take-no-prisoners vision of addiction and despair, yet he also offers redemption and second chances.  By turns tormented, earthy, humorous, celebratory, these poems pin us with uncanny accuracy to the truth of our flawed selves:  “What part of is when altered into was/ will stitch the cut?”

   -Jo McDougall, author of Satisfied with Havoc

Heartfelt is a somewhat out of usage word for poetry whereby the poet means what he says. The language is unadorned and the body and soul are in conjunction with their concerns: family, friends, neighbors, geography, and the timeless pleasure of stories. Michael Burns means what he says. Sadly, in this instance, this book is both welcome and farewell to his dear, sincere world.

   –C. D. Wright, author of One with Others [a little book of her days]

Night of the Grizzly, Michael Burns’s last book, was a finished manuscript at the time of his passing and reflects an incisive poet at the height of his powers. Burns has an ear for language as satisfying as Robert Frost’s and a knack for storytelling Robert Penn Warren would envy. His deep image poems evoke primal experiences that take us beyond the dulling influence of this life.

Twenty-one of the thirty-six poems printed here have appeared in such distinguished venues as The Paris ReviewThe Southern Review,Western Humanities ReviewThe Laurel Review, and Moon City Review.

Michael Burns helped found the Creative Writing Program at Missouri State University, where he taught for twenty-five years. A graduate of the University of Arkansas Creative Writing Program, he published two chapbooks, When All Else Failed and And As for Darkness, and two books of poetry, The Secret Names and It Will Be All Right in the Morning. He also edited two books of critical essays. Born June 3, 1953 in Egypt, Arkansas, Burns retired to Louisville, Kentucky, where he passed away on October 27, 2011.

Marcus Cafagña is professor of English at Missouri State University, where he teaches creative writing. He has authored two books of poetry:The Broken World (a National Poetry Series selection) and Roman Fever. His poems have appeared in The Harvard ReviewPloughsharesSouthern Poetry Review, and Quarterly West.

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