Beverly Burch

Sweet to Burn

Praise for Sweet to Burn

Winner of the 2004 Lambda Literary Foundation Award for Lesbian Poetry

Winner of the 2003 Gival Press Poetry Award

"'The subject of this story is desire,' claims Beverly Burch on the first page of Sweet to Burn, although to label a collection of poems a 'story' is an interesting way to begin. Sure enough, the next page introduces us to Alice and Meg, whose complicated and dynamic desires we follow for the remainder of the book. Sweet to Burn, however, is not a novel in verse—it's more along the lines of Rita Dove's Thomas and Beulah, and Burch gives a strong nod in that direction when she quotes Dove in the epigraph...Burch is up to the daunting task of creating not only poems, but an imagined world that is presumably their source...It's rare that a book of poems is compelling enough to read cover to cover without stopping, but Sweet to Burn's straightforward and lively verse is hard to set down...."
—Chelsea Jennings, Lambda Book Report, Nov. Dec. 2004

"Novelistic in scope, but packing the emotional intensity of lyric poetry, Beverly Burch's Sweet to Burn charts the relationship of two distinct and dissimilar spirits who test the boundaries of love and trust over a lifetime. The strength of the narrative is matched by the richness of the individual poems. Indeed, these poems pass the ultimate test—each one can stand alone as an exquisite example of mature craft. Who thought you could say about a book of poetry— ‘I couldn't put it down!'?"
—Eloise Klein Healy, Passing

"Sweet to Burn tells the story of two women who meet and make a life together. They contend with families—the ones they came from, and the new one they create with an adopted daughter. They contend, too, with loss and desire in the context of long love. In starkly realistic and lyrical poems, Beverly Burch explores that love with all of its attendant doubts and unexpected moments of grace."
—Kim Addonizio, What Is This Thing Called Love

"'The subject of this story is desire.' Sweet to Burn combines daring lyric intensity—stars that 'swung like a roulette wheel,' a kingfisher 'stricken with infinity'—with the richness and depth of the love story. Beverly Burch knows how to skate the razor's edge between action and image so each hones the other: 'it wasn't her gold chain but how it fell / across her throat.' These poems confront the 'impossibility' and delicious necessity of love that 'wounds like that splinter of bone hidden in the hot curry.'"
—Robert Thomas, Door to Door

“Beverly Burch is a master at exploring the subtle seasons of relationships, both the heartaches and the joys. Her imagery is fresh and accessible— the message undeniably rich and moving. Fabulous lines from Sweet to Burn will stay with you longer after you've closed the book. As a poet, Burch has a poignant and powerful voice that will no doubt leave its mark on the world of poetry. I highly recommend this portal to a remarkable soul.”
—Janet I. Buck, Tickets to a Closing Play

2005 Independent Publisher Book Award for Poetry
2005 Balcones Poetry Prize
2004 Audre Lorde Award for Poetry
2004 Pushcart Prize for Poetry
2004 Lammy for Poetry
2004 ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award for Poetry

A Sample from Sweet to Burn:

The Subject of This Story Is Desire

Isn’t that the subject of every story? Desire, how it steals, careless where it leaves things, who it orphans. Lovers going under, children falling in its wake so desire can fill its glowing hunger. Doesn’t it tumble everyone? Even animals. Look—the spider quivers in her web as the fly passes, the hawk swoons above the meadow of its last mouse. And plants, the lily toils not nor spins, still it reaches for the sun, hour after hour.

A breeze stirs branches of the plum tree, petals drift across the sidewalk— soon the ichor of longing rises in your throat. But why name what’s ordinary as air? Necessity, how the voice unblocks the windpipe, even sputtering. How desire gives way, pinned to the butterfly board—a winged artifact spread out for admiration, our desirous study.

I—First Sight

A woman walks into a bar, a lesbian bar in San Francisco. She’s all alone, feels like a handful of loose change. In fact she places two quarters on the bar, circles them around each other while she studies the bartender. She’s good at seduction. Soon the bartender serves her a Dubonnet on the house, asks her name. Her name is Alice.

Four women walk into the bar, choose a table in the corner. They look alike, lots of dark curly hair. You’d be confused whether they’re paired—see how they sit close, talk low, touch each other and the hands linger. Maybe they’re all lovers, menage a quatre. Or the kind of friends who act like lovers, never sleep together. One is named Meg.

Alice and Meg catch each other’s eye, but Meg turns away. Alice asks Meg to dance and Meg’s too surprised to hesitate. Alice meets Meg’s smile—clear as plate glass, no distortion, no guile at all—and her hands tremble touching the small of Meg’s back.

Play Back

Weeks after, I imagine her a stranger again,
want the jolt of meeting one more time.
Outside, after the bar, stars swung
like a roulette wheel. In the stiff breeze
streets were almost soundless.
Movements of her body, her hands
in the air, reached me like tiny shock waves.
She didn’t feel this, checked her watch,
worried what the friends would think.

I had to turn away, too much showed in my face.

I knew her already, some left-behind dream:
it wasn’t her gold chain but how it fell
across her throat. Not her green sweater
but how it rose from her waist. Not her long legs
but the way they crossed as she stood.
Not the vein of red in her hair but the heat
it gave off. Not the suede boots, but their rhythm
on the sidewalk as she went back for her things.

Wind Shear

Watching her at the bar I thought I’d draw
her face—shaped like a heart—
the curve of her throat, that slender jaw.
Then there she was, at my table.

Three nights we didn’t part.
She took me to the river. We swam naked
in water too dark and green to see our bodies.
Then Mt. Diablo—she likes to drive,
fast and often. She roasted chilis,
cooked empanadas over hot coals.
Her pursuit, a wind at my back.

I let the phone ring, see friends, paint
every morning. She has to wait.
I send a card copied from a French landscape:
pale colors, soft shrubs, hillside,
two women waking up under the sun:
one wide-eyed, one slowly starting to stretch.

Copyright © 2004 by Beverly Burch.


Beverly Burch’s work appears in many journals, including North American Review, Southern Poetry Review, Many Mountains Moving, River City, Tar River Poetry, and Poetry International. She also has two non-fiction collections: On Intimate Terms (University of Illinois Press) and Other Women (Columbia University Press). She is a psychotherapist in Oakland, California.

Also by Beverly Burch
On Intimate Terms
Other Women

Photo of Beverly Burch by Linda O'Brien.

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