CSULA poetry community mourns
loss of benefactor Jean Burden
Literary legend, poetry editor at Yankee for 47 years, dies in Altadena at 93; Since 1986, her namesake reading series annually hosted laureates at Cal State L.A.
Los Angeles, Calif. – English professors and students at California State University, Los Angeles reacted with sadness, gratitude and appreciation upon learning of the death earlier this week of Jean Burden, one of the 20th century’s most influential poetry editors, whose long-time support help create a laureate-attracting program of poetry education at the University.
Burden, most noted as poetry editor at Yankee magazine from 1955 to 2002, died April 21 in Altadena, where she had resided since 1946. She was 93.
Burden’s poetry appeared in the New York Times, The American Scholar, Saturday Review and many other publications. She published two collections of poems: “Naked as the Glass” in 1963 and “Taking Light from Each Other” in 1992. She also wrote a book of essays, Journey Toward Poetry, and articles and books on topics ranging from animal welfare to Oriental religion.
For many years, Burden offered poetry workshops at her Altadena home. Her guidance and encouragement inspired a group of her students and other donors to establish the Jean Burden Annual Poetry Series at Cal State L.A. in 1986. The series honors her influence as a poet, essayist, anthologist, teacher and editor. Among the major poets whom the series has sponsored are British Poet Laureate Andrew Motion and Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. Poet Laureate Rita Dove. Burden herself presented the reading in 1997.
According to Lauri Ramey, director of Cal State L.A.’s Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, “The Burden poets visit classes, discuss their work, offer professional advice and guidance to our students, socialize with them informally, and make themselves available for interviews. Their presence has had an appreciable impact on awareness of poetry on our campus – including spin-offs such as the Poetry Center, additional visiting poets, and the participation of students from middle and high schools in the activities.
“Jean Burden did more than any other individual to make Cal State L.A. a major poetry center in southern California,” said Ramey. “She was really terrific. Her greatest joy was knowing that students were benefiting, and she was thrilled that the readings had become ‘all ages’ events that brought the broader community to campus.”
For her 93rd birthday last summer numerous Cal State L.A. students wrote to Burden to express their appreciation for the series. Misty Jackson, a graduate student in English and teacher-credential candidate, told her, “These writers and countless others continue to be an asset to our own growth and development as writers and thinkers who desire to create literature and help others understand how literature is not only about telling stories, but is a lens from which one can critique in depth history and culture.”
Cal State L.A. graduate student Lanla Gist, who visited Burden last September and interviewed her from her bedside, called her “truly a credit to humanity.” Gist was particularly moved by “Landscape for Stones,” one of Burden’s most widely read poems. (Gist’s interview with Burden is available here: www.calstatela.edu/univ/ppa/newsrel/jb-interview.htm.)
“Poetry,” Burden once wrote, “is a happening. In other words, it is active, moving, breathing. It goes somewhere and it takes us with it.”
Active, moving, breathing poetry is also the legacy Jean Burden left behind.
Plans have yet to be arranged for an on-campus tribute to Burden.
Center for Contemporary Poetry and Poetics: http://www.calstatela.edu/centers/ccpp
Jean Burden Annual Readings: http://www.calstatela.edu/academic/english/dburden.htm
Jean Burden interview by Lanla Gist: http://www.calstatela.edu/univ/ppa/newsrel/jb-interview.htm
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