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This review is taken from PN Review 188, Volume 35 Number 6, July - August 2009.

EMERGING TALENTS DAN BURT, Searched for Text (Lintott Press) £7.95

Dan Burt’s Searched for Text is a short book, little more than a pamphlet with a spine, but the poems are strikingly ambitious. His language is terse to the point of brutality; the verbs ferocious, often monosyllabic; his core conviction, formed by the history of the twentieth century and a lifetime in a non-literary world, is of ‘the curtain falling on the Enlightenment’.

An American, and in any case too young to have felt the menace of the Holocaust directly, he is obsessed by the evidence it offers of human callousness; rather as in the paintings of R.B. Kitaj, that knowledge underpins his poetry. And the suffering of his fellow Jews spans generations. In ‘Circumcision’ a forebear leans over at the moment of the ritual snip to say: ‘For him our suffering began today’.

He writes well of old Turkish Baths, where towelled Jews lie in rows after bathing; to the eye of his imagination they resemble corpses after a Cossack raid. He wonders if the sight would have been the same in Odessa before the Second World War, or in Toledo before the Inquisition. As the present-day bathers lie there comfortably, they ponder Arendt’s question: Why didn’t the Jews fight? Burt is a harsh witness, but not only of others. ‘Slowly Sounds The Bell’ speaks frankly of the death of a brother, and confesses his indifference on hearing of it; and perhaps worse than indifference, as he suggests in the last couplet:

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