Issue 92 |
Winter 2003-04

On Darrell Burton

Darrell Burton passed away tragically in December of 2002, just days after completing his poetry manuscript Weather Within. An accidental fire claimed his life in his Bloomington, Indiana apartment; he was 41. Before coming to Indiana University, Darrell lived a full life: navy shipman, chef, college scholarship basketball player, and successful fashion model with features in magazines like Ebony. At the time of his passing, Darrell was collaborating with his good friend Eric Dickerson on a memoir of the pro football star's life.

What's more, Weather Within was in quite different form just a few weeks before he passed away—in weeks if not days Darrell managed to turn what was a rough collection of terrific poems into that elusive thing, a book. The poems achieve a blues-aesthetic, both in their frank discussion of Darrell's frequent wrestling with depression, and by overcoming such blues feelings with lyric form, blues humor, and casual precision. The poems manage to be direct and plainspoken, yet always musical and complex. Whether dealing with growing up in Arkansas, rendering the contradictions and diction of race, or reveling in a sexuality inseparable from spirit, Darrell's poetry seeks a refreshing take on all we take for granted.

There's a kind of unique pleasure in reading his poems, poems that are much like Darrell himself: stylish and effortless, handsome, full of a soft-spokenness that belies (or is because of) a fierce and well-thought intelligence and attention. He had a smile that wouldn't quit. Yet there's often a deep sadness in his work, "A Balance of Blues & Angels" as one poem titled it. Taken as a whole, Weather Within is a remarkable debut, and would (and surely soon will) place him among the best poets of his generation.

—Cathy Bowman and Kevin Young. Cathy Bowman has published two poetry collections and is an associate professor at Indiana University. Kevin Young is the author of three books of poems and is Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University.