By Maureen N. McLane
Farrar Straus Giroux, Hardcover, 9780374275938, 128pp.
Publication Date: April 1, 2014
List Price: $24.00*
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National Book Award Finalist
A vital, exhilarating new collection of poems from the National Book Critics Circle nominee
From lichens to malls to merchant republics, it's "another day in this here cosmos," in Maureen N. McLane's stunning third poetry collection, "This Blue. "Here are songs for and of a new century, poems both archaic and wholly now. In the middle of life, stationed in our common "Terran Life," the poet conjures urban pigeons, Adirondack mountains, Genoa, Andalucia, Belfast, Parma; here is a world sounded out, broken, possibly shareable, newly named: "Take it up Old Adam-- / everyday the world exists / to be named." "This Blue" is a searching and a singing--intricate, sexy, smart.
*Starred Review* "The third poetry collection from McLane (Same Life; World Enough) is replete with searching poems—"how can I be in this world?"—and poems celebrating nature and travel . . . An exciting collection that celebrates the extraordinary in the ordinary." —Doris Lynch, Library Journal
Praise for My Poets:“To read McLane is to be reminded that the brain may be an organ, but the mind is a muscle. Hers is a roving, amphibious intelligence; she’s at home in the essay and the fragment, the polemic and the elegy. She can be confessional and clinical and ludic—sometimes all in the same sentence. What I’m trying to say is that McLane has moves. In her new book, My Poets, she invites us to read over her shoulder as she combs through ‘her’ poets, including Chaucer, H.D., Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Glück. It’s a work of personal and poetic archaeology . . . The prose is thick with quotation and self-interrogation . . . Forensically close readings dovetail with spirited defenses of the poets posterity has misunderstood, fresh readings of the familiar, and formal experiments . . . It’s a visceral kind of criticism, sexy, strange, suspenseful . . . Language enters McLane’s body like a current. Her whole body bucks and shudders. Her responses are forcefully somatic . . . and matched by the syntactical sophistication of her thought, her attraction to contradiction . . . McLane’s personality, her laconic wit and iconoclasm, suffuse this book . . . There is explicit autobiography here, too, painful self-disclosure, that gives the book its emotional torque . . . This isn’t the language of criticism; this is the language of seduction, a celebration of yearning, of not-knowing and not-having . . . Susan Sontag called for an erotics of art. My Poets is that more; it is an erotics of epistemology. A celebration of meaning and mystification, of the pleasures and necessity of kankedort. As McLane writes, ‘All honor to those who wave the pure flag of a difficult joy.’” —Parul Sehgal, Bookforum
“[A] beguiling new book . . . Genially, charismatically subversive . . . In this book McLane comes into contact—repeatedly, playfully, and with great seriousness—with verbal art, and is changed by it. My Poets is a delightful shock. It’s also a friendly book, inviting readers by its own example to let poems change them too . . . McLane recognizes that we all read with baggage. She reports on that baggage, miraculously without the cloistered narcissism typical of memoir. It’s part of this book’s strength, and its broad appeal, that McLane is willing to get personal while also tossing off niftily worded assessments of poems . . . My Poets is McLane’s story of learning to embrace the ambivalence of her own taste in poems and in people, and of learning to live and read in contradiction . . . Poetry clarifies our loneliness, restores textures to life’s flatness and abysses, makes the world bigger, and closer. Perhaps it makes us interesting, even beautiful, or anyway, human. McLane’s many dictions and registers, her playful digressions and pouncing aperçus, her fast foot-work that takes her from sorrow to arch amusement in half a sentence, work to demonstrate that.” —Daisy Fried, The New York Times Book Review “Those seeking a critical introduction to Chaucer, Elizabeth Bishop, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H.D., Louise Glück, Fanny Howe, Dickinson or Shelley—Ms. McLane’s titular poets—will find something much more exhilarating . . . and impassioned. At a time when execrable “lyric essays” flourish as an excuse to avoid critical thinking, Ms. McLane has written lyrical essays that justify the genre . . . Ms. McLane’s discussions of her poets are interwoven with autobiographical accounts of what was going on in her life when she discovered them . . . she is able to elucidate why poetry can matter to a life without straining for the unconvincing uplift that mars so many books on poetry written for a general audience . . . [McLane] is clearly having fun . . . If you already love poetry, Ms. McLane’s book will rekindle old passions and ignite new ones. And if you don’t already love poetry, well, the central insight of My Poets, as of all literary criticism, is laid out in Ms. McLane’s chapter on ‘My Shelley / (My Romantics)’: ‘I had no imagination so I sought out the imaginers’ . . . There’s no way to convince a young person who doesn’t read that in order to have an imagination one must first seek out the imaginers, that without them a life is less. You can only place a book in her hands and hope for a spark. This book would do.” —Michael Robbins, The New York Observer
Praise for World Enough:
“One of my favorite reviewer’s tricks is to assemble a sort of authorial lineage for the poet under consideration. Charles Wright, for instance, has always seemed to me the descendent of both Gerard Manley Hopkins and Woody Allen. It’s a useful way of conveying the old ‘if you like X, you’ll love Y.’ And it’s failed me entirely in reading World Enough, Maureen N. McLane’s beautiful second book. I had been ready to compare her pared-down, fragmentary couplets to Robert Creeley or even Sappho. Her urbane attentiveness, to Frank O’Hara. And her acuity with frequent, cunning rhymes, to Kay Ryan. But McLane withstands any such comparisons—in fact defies them—because her own uncompromising voice cuts so keenly, no matter what form she has chosen for a given poem. That voice abides with an almost fatalistic wryness that I cannot resist comparing to Philip Larkin her ‘Song of a Season II’ . . . McLane’s first book, though accomplished, sometimes felt like an attempt to weld together two or more styles and a universe of influences. In World Enough, the structure is complete and the seams invisible . . . Contemporary poetry is too often a poetry of fragments, content to lie in shards. In World Enough, McLane demonstrates the poet Derek Walcott’s belief that “the love that reassembles the fragments [of a broken vase] is stronger than the love which took its symmetry for granted when it was whole. World Enough takes nothing for granted; its fragments both strive and sing.” —David Lucas, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)
“With a title evoking Marvell, McLane’s second collection adheres to his dictum that ‘though we cannot make our sun / Stand still, yet we will make him run,’ even as her poems drift and spill down these pages like rain. Often employing syllabic minimums (especially in the longer poems), McLane uses simple diction that butts up against the philosophical and profound. Generic words like ‘cloud(s) / rain / wind / sun’ are reiterated to form a shifting web that explores the ‘weathers’ and the ‘whethers’; beginning in a locus, the poems gaze outward toward the whatevers of space-time, trying to split (sometimes violently) the poem-moments apart like atoms of experience. McLane, who’s noted for her literary criticism and scholarship, also demonstrates an ease with Blakean lyric. With disarming playfulness, even whimsy, she interrogates what self is and what language means in a physically, spiritually, and materially ‘stormbashed’ world where ‘Nothing / in nature that is ours / is ours’ . . . Though playful, these poems are not for literary wimps . . . at their best these poems fuse musicality and wordplay into ingenious thought; highly recommended.” —Library Journal
“McLane is a professor of English at NYU, a prolific book critic and specialist in British romanticism. Her academic proclivities are readily apparent in her second collection: ‘what is called thinking / is obsessing,’ she writes, echoing and answering the German philosopher Martin Heidegger. This book has the overall feel of a poetic diary, with meditations on the changing seasons, travel, politics, love affairs, and the mind itself, as McLane (Same Life) ventures to understand, via various methods, what it means to live in a particular epoch: The question n/ is the ratio of the palpable hurt/ to the general session / of life in an era. There, and elsewhere, McLane crosses the streams of academic and accessibly passionate language, creating a kind of emotional, autobiographical criticism in hip free verse: ‘rain rain and the trees/ engulfed I am tired / of reading Russians their suffering / souls their tribulations.’ McLane, armed with a sharp wit, engages in an ambitious poetic project, as she confronts the very meaning of the shadowed hours of time past, present, and future.” —Publishers Weekly (starred review)
“Poet Maureen McLane writes exquisitely without being precious (‘The sea’s in the dolphin, the sun’s / in the rose. The stars in my lungs / are breathing’). In one quick turn she’ll capture a scene (‘Saint-Sulpice / in sun! the coats thrown off the fanfare blasts its horns’) or a mood (‘Amazing the world / isn’t enshrouded / in general mourning / unless that’s what we call/ the sky’), and she tells us stories without slipping into mere story (‘The woman in the closely cut pink coat/ redeeming pink/ for us all: a wish to have a drink / at the café/ deferred’). She’s often offhandedly witty (‘Time to admit / That misanthropy / Has a logic to it’), but this wise, light tone never turns snarky, and her deeply grounded observations of moment, place, and relationship can be suddenly arrested by a still, hard thought (‘how anyone thought music / meaningless / or universal how anyone thought / thought alone would have everything to do with it’). And do these poems flow. In short, McLane is one of those rare poets whose work is as absorbing as Friday night’s escapist fiction yet informed by a high level of craft. So it’s fortunate that her second collection, World Enough, follows so quickly after Same Life (2008). Even more than her debut, this second work is marked by a sense of clarity-hardly surprising from a sharp-eyed critic who serves as an associate professor of English at New York University and a contributing editor at Boston Review and in 2003 was honored by the National Book Critics Circle with the Nona Balakian Citation for Excellence in Reviewing. From scene to scene, from Paris to Central Park, from teen comedy (“Fuckwind”) to a beautifully referenced Child Ballad (‘Haunt,’ right), McLane gives us ‘testimony weaving its own / shimmering cloth.’” —Barbara Hoffert