Joshua Burton Recommends...

I sort of deal with obsessions when it comes to reading poetry and the creation of poetry. At any given time, I have a poem or two that I am drawn to on an emotional and sometimes ineffable level, in which I reread and return to the poem multiple times a week. This poem punctures me in a way that speaks to something I want to achieve in my own writing. Sometimes this is content or theme, but most of the time the poem carries a feeling or a rhythm I want to replicate. In my repeated readings of the poem, I get a better understanding of that rhythm. When I’m ready to write, I seek out ways to make that rhythm real to me in my own words and line breaks.

Most recently the poem that has stuck with me is “Mother and Daughter” by Hayan Charara. The poem is heavily dialogue-driven, only really detailing what the mother and daughter are saying in a cycle of call and response. The poem feels almost intentionally stunted—so little is said about their situation, yet so much emotional depth is being covered. When I began to create from this poem, that emotional depth and sense of repression in the atmosphere and the speakers was something I hoped to capture. My poem ended up being a very different poem with few similarities from “Mother and Daughter,” but without that original spark and obsession, I don’t think my poem would exist.
—Joshua Burton, author of Grace Engine (University of Wisconsin Press, 2023)  

Photo credit: Cindy Trinh