Maureen N. McLane Highlights a Few Recent Discoveries
We asked poet, essayist, and critic Maureen N. McLane to tell us about some of the poetry she's excited about right now. Maureen has written two collections for FSG, Same Life and the forthcoming World Enough. She currently teaches at New York University. You can find audio of her reading her own poetry here.
I am, in a way, still in recovery from the poetry of 2009—or rather, still metabolizing the work of several incredibly strong poets, some very established and some newer, at least to me. Frederick Seidel’s Poems 1959–2009 is clearly a, and perhaps the, towering work of the moment: his “Kill Poem,” from a few years ago, still makes my hair stand on end—a ruthless diagnosis of the spirit of the age. He is so knowingly, funnily, evilly brilliant that his power can be measured by the force of his detractors as well as by the intensity of his admirers. He is, thank god, inimitable. “I’m a liar with a lyre. Kiss me, life!” (“Pain Management”): youza! Seidel is our great poet of (among many other things) masculine abjection and authority, their mangled and mangling embrace.
Other work I’ve been absorbed by: Louise Glück’s A Village Life, with its stunning collective wager, its slowly and profoundly etched portrait of individuals in community; Rachel Zucker’s Museum of Accidents (Wave Books), an intriguing, vertiginous, ingathering counter, if you want one, to Seidel’s sense of where we live now; Rae Armantrout’s Versed (Wesleyan), continuing her lyric scything; Mahmoud Darwish’s If I Were Another (translated by Fady Joudah), an overwhelming volume that will take a long time to settle fully in me—and one that proves the urgency and necessity and gift of translation.
On the translation front: I am immersed in, and fascinated by, Jonathan Galassi’s translations of Leopardi’s Canti (forthcoming from FSG in November 2010), and I look forward to assigning some of these rigorous, fluent, wholly modern lyrico-critical poems (as well as the illuminating, elegant introduction) to students next year.
Other volumes exciting me now: Ange Mlinko’s Shoulder Season, just out from Coffee House Press: I’d seen some individual poems in magazines, and it’s terrific to have the whole volume. The wit, musicality, and careening intelligence here are a boon: consider “Babyclothes made of camo— / There should be a Lysistrata in the forsythia” (“Camouflage”). Or “It’s hard to know whether today or yesterday was the full moon; / excitement isn’t rigorous. It’s just river-silvering / blent with the odor of silt where the roofs spike / along a repurposed waterfront” (“Children’s Museum”). Mlinko seems to be taking James Schuyler’s kind of precisely rendered urban pastoral and bringing it elsewhere—American English sings differently in her lines and mind. Then, too, certain poems are stationed elsewhere—perhaps in Beirut, or Paris, or Croton-on-Hudson, all alert to “the realpolitik / of utilities.”
For all the praise-and-blame hooplah around National Poetry Month, I am glad to see individual poems appearing fresh and savage and singing in various magazines and on websites: Cathy Park Hong’s “Ballad in A”; Robyn Schiff’s “H1N1”. And, as usual, I am permanently excited about Sappho, Anne Carson (have not yet seen her new book, Nox), Shelley, Wordsworth, and Wallace Stevens.
-Maureen N. McLane