Not one of us, I don't think, hasn't desired to write a short poem that could beautifully,succinctly encapsulate the essence of an impossible broad subject. The dominating desire would be, I believe, that one wanted to at least say something tht would make the reader nod their head in recognition, a accomplishment that would rise above yet another dirge abut the impossibility of our language to convey experience with anything resembling accuracy. "Books" by Campbell McGrath is such an attempt at the short and sweet lyric on a philosophical duty.This poem begins with comparing books to honey in a beehive, and continues for several lines with nothing less than a travelogue, a history lesson, a anthropological slide show.Linking the unlikely is always a refreshing activity when the things being connected have a plausible yet unexpected relationship the Inspector Poet notes and presents forth in grand language.
Campbell McGrath has, at least, the grand language, as his transitions here are not glaring or tuneless; as he investigates the idea that true value, real beauty and shared assumptions of the sublime lie not on surface appearances but in essences that have to be patiently searched for--one must "dig" for the good stuff, one must go behind and beneath and beyond surfaces to reap the richness that might otherwise remain sealed-- he sustains a remarkably musical flow in his tone. But this makes the poem's pleasure a sonic one, a handy disguise that this is merely an ordinary idea even in a reader's most indulgent state of mind.
McGrath provides no surprises, but rather merely surmises a number of narrative starts that are abbreviated for a series of convenient "for examples". I do have a preference for the tightly reigned in poem these poems, those splendidly woven odes where concision and illuminating word choice highlight a perception that would have been other wise lost in a stream of moments, but what McGrath has taken here is not a conceit, but a topic requiring discourse.
Wallace Stevens, John Ashbery and , I insist, A.R.Ammons have been here before, merging, invading or ripping apart the civilized membrane that subdues our response to raw experience; each ,in their kind, have wandered among the imagined realm beyond appearances and offered up respectively visceral reactions. McGrath begins his poem with a simile and does not grow beyond that; he dares tread only so far to the edge and is not likely to be fully seduced by his muse. Sweet as it is, this poem is an itch he will not scratch, and that's an irritation on a whole other level.