I finished reading My Poets by Maureen McLane. You are probably tired by now of hearing me saw how much I love this book. This will be the last time – for today 🙂
I’ve been trying to put together into coherent thoughts what I like about the book so much and was going to post last night but all I managed to do was sit and stare into space thinking about parts of the book I liked and then flipping through the pages rereading favorite bits.
McLane writes about “her” poets with a passion and enthusiasm that is contagious and fun. McLane does not use academic jargon. She clearly loves poetry and writing about it and she wants you to love poetry and the poets she writes about too. Into the mix she brings personal memoir, relating moments of her life to the poetry she discusses. There is subtle play between the criticism, poetry, and memoir elements so that one can glimpse not only how her life experience affects how she reads poetry but also how poetry also creates a frame for looking at her life.
And her language, oh! McLane is a published poet and one can tell by her prose writing in this book. She doesn’t write in paragraphs, she writes in stanzas. Oh they look like paragraphs on the page but they have a lyrical poetic rhythm. She changes up her style too. In the chapter called “My Elizabeth Bishop/(My Gertrude Stein)” she writes the whole thing in a Stenien manner.
In a chapter called “My Translated, an Abecedary,” she lists poets she has read in translation and the translators who brought them to her. So we have “My Akhmatova is Judith Hemschemeyer” and “My Beowulf is Seamus Heaney.” But one must pay attention because she slips in some interesting and suggestive things like ‘My Anne Carson is Anne Carson.” And “My Pushkin does not exist.” And “My Robert Zimmerman is Bob Dylan.” One can ponder on the list and what it says about translation a very long time.
McLane also includes two centos in the book. A cento is a poem composed of lines taken from other poems. I must admit I was so busy trying to recognize the lines and/or looking up who they were from that I had a hard time following the poem itself. I don’t recall running across a cento before. It makes for interesting reading and the two she includes are crafted so well that they have their own tone and poetic coherence.
Another delight of this book is the things McLane says about her poets and their poems. Things like:
Everybody likes Elizabeth Bishop because she is nice.
Elizabeth Bishop will not cut off your nuts or bare her vagina.
My Wallace Stevens is an insurgent inchling in the bristling forest and a stolid giant rolling metaphysical rhymes down the mountain.
But she [Marianne Moore] is the stealth weapon of American poetry, with a ferocity and a lacerating intelligence few poets have matched. She has a capacity for a Swiftian savage indignation, and for a courtly feline bitchiness one finds more regularly in Saint-Simon and Proust.
Are you beginning to see why I liked this book so much?
My TBR list of poetry has grown enormously from reading this book, not only from the poets McLane goes into depth about in each chapter, but the poets in her translated list and the poets in her centos and the poets she quotes and mentions in passing.
I initially borrowed the book from the library because I wasn’t sure if it would be any good. I loved it so much I had to buy my own copy. It is one I know I will go back to again and again.