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In the Empire of the Air
The Poems of Donald Britton
Donald Britton; Reginald Shepherd, ed.; Philip Clark, ed.; Douglas Crase, afterword

2016 • 128 pp. 6 x 9"

$16.95 Paperback, 978-1-937658-44-1

“One is led gradually into these poems, which seem so quiet and open at first, like empty streets on the periphery of a city. Soon one realizes that for some... [continued in Reviews below]”—John Ashbery,

An evocative and luminous collection of poems from the late Donald Britton

Described as “dazzling” by Edmund White and as a poet “who has The Gift and delivers The Goods” by Kenward Elmslie, Donald Britton published just one book of poetry, Italy, before his death from AIDS in 1994. In the Empire of the Air: The Poems of Donald Britton reprints Italy alongside previously unpublished and uncollected poems to display the full range of Britton’s fresh, vivid language and subtle humor. It is poetry by turns glamorous, wistful, intellectual, and elegant, the sharp-eyed observations of a penetrating mind lost to the world too soon.

Click here for TABLE OF CONTENTS

Reviews / Endorsements

“One is led gradually into these poems, which seem so quiet and open at first, like empty streets on the periphery of a city. Soon one realizes that for some time one has been involved in a strong dialectic with Donald Britton's remarkable and inspiring intelligence. By that time it is too late to do anything but enjoy."—John Ashbery

“Quick and ever resourceful sentences pull in swerves and pratfalls: where are we? It’s the first-person singularity of Donald Britton’s longing, and we are pulled there, here, whatever, forever and a day.”—Marjorie Welish

“Donald slouched and giggled among us, a guy among guys, in an often silly and dizzying era. And here he is, in these exquisite poems—to echo Frank O’Hara, just one of his poet heroes—the center of all beauty. Imagine!”—Brad Gooch

“He didn’t use words to write a poem. He wrote from inside language – as from inside a mirror or photograph – because he lived there as much as he inhabited the world. Many of the poems are haunted by Britton’s awareness that he lived on the cusp of eternity (“sadness surges in,/a passing-windshield light-effect/on the ceiling”). Little did he know that it would grab him so soon.”—John Yau, Hyperallergic

“It might or might not be numerically accurate to say that the majority of poets one admired were gay (I believe it would), but it is certainly true that the aesthetic assumptions under which one was writing poetry — the ‘inside’ nature of the criticism that Doug describes — were implicitly rooted in a gay culture that had formed in the New York of the 1950s and would soon be transformed into something very different by AIDS, which killed Donald in 1994.”—Barry Schwabsky,

“Even if Donald Britton’s attentions often tugged on his sleeve until he articulated more elusive specifics, 'a slab of morning' or 'interior glaze' (he once explained part of his poetic drive to find 'where one’s words cease to comment on any experience, but become an experience in and of themselves’), his conceptual persona . . . smiles on those, unrequited or perplexed, who pursue, in the midst of ‘surviving / a lot of living and shifting,’ the nuances of language and feeling to negotiate some kind of succor for the abrasions of consciousness.”—Bruce Hainley,
SFMOMA's Open Space Blog

“The appearance in print of the selected poems of Donald Britton is an affront to cynicism and a triumph over fate. When Donald died, in 1994, it was sadly reasonable to assume that the influence of his poetry would be confined to the few who had preserved a copy of his single book, the slender, deceptively titled Italy, published thirteen years earlier. As the few became fewer it seemed all but certain the audience for his poems would disappear. Donald never taught, so there were no students to mature into positions of critical authority. There was no keeper of the flame to incite publication, no posthumous foundation to subsidize it, not even a martyrology in place to demand it out of sentiment. The survival of his work would have to come about, instead, as a pure instance of “go little booke”—an instance that must now warm the heart of anyone who has ever believed in poetry. It was the poems in Italy themselves, free of professional standing or obligation, that inspired the successive affections of two remarkable editors and the confident publisher of the present selection. Donald, who despite his brilliance was a modest and self-effacing person, would be surprised.”
—Dennis Cooper, author of
The Weaklings

From the Book:


A blank tape is the record
Of our gracious sustained attention
To the sound of the probabilities

Of sound. When such music plays
We are analyzed
Into hundreds of accordian-like units,

Each a box from which
In spiky silhouette a backlit figure
Seems to wave. And the moment

Is held together
By pressure, so the densely punctuated
Phrases may be heard, the scenery

Squeezed from bright
Articulate tubes.

DONALD BRITTON was the author of Italy (1981) and the previously unpublished manuscript “In the Empire of the Air.” REGINALD SHEPHERD was the author of six books of poetry including Red Clay Weather. PHILIP CLARK is the co-editor of Persistent Voices: Poetry by Writers Lost to AIDS.

Tue, 15 May 2018 13:34:00 -0500