Showing posts with label Campbell McGrath. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Campbell McGrath. Show all posts

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Booked up

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 civilizing reassurances whick subdue our response to raw experience.Each poet ,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.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

The Flaneur trips over his show laces

Yet another poem about poetry, a category Slate poetry editor Robert Pinsky shows a personal powerlessness to leave alone. And once again the self-reflective twitch proves to be an ideal way to fill a page, a monitor, a notebook with a series of eccentric line breaks. In this instance, Campbell McGrath's"Lincoln Road" offers a twist and merely uses the meta poetry index as a means to jump start a verse:

Browsing, before dinner, at Books & Books,
checking out the new poems
in the new journals, the vast glass panes thrust against
by shoppers and gawkers on Lincoln Road
emit a particular cautionary hum
as they insist upon delimiting inside from out,
tongued and grimed by the fingerless
gloves of the homeless,...

Irritation is the mood here, a man of ideas focused on the latest missives from the competition, seeking either pleasure or taking notes on what
the hot first lines are, when the bustle and commotion of the rude public interrupts him. Damn, I hear him think, now I have to slip into my flaneur costume and observe the cursed details of things in the city and the population who negotiate the hard corners of sales counters and intersections! Damn it all! The descriptions, following suit, are fussy, crabby,too full of small digs and dimunitions of character to seem at spontaneous. There isn't, of course, any further mentioning nor obvious dwelling on the entwined poetry or being a poet, but the tone and pace of the poem, the leaden use of "literary" words to describe banal
circumstances, bespeaks a boredom. This doesn't have the virtue of the boredom become genuine ennui, a variant of despair, a quality that at least might inspire sharper language that bypasses the rote literacy of McGrath's ode to his
prowess as an observer.

...the splash
of modest fountains
in common space, a baby
in green hip-harness
staring back at me goggle-eyed, recording it all
like the tourists with digital camcorders
pre-editing their memories
and the ringing of cellphones broadcasting
a panegyric of need
with whichever hooks and trembles
we have chosen in the darkness to answer.

The problem is tone, of course, and none of this convinces me that what was described was actually seen . Suspension of disbelief comes into play here, since this particular list attempts to get across what was observed in a hurry, while browsing, on the fly, it needs to suggest something fast, mercurial.

You'd think, really, that this sort of matter should catch the rhythm of things that are fleeting, and are fluid. The people, places and things should be made to seem that they have lives or conditions of existence apart from the frame Campbell places around them.The effect in the poem, though, is static, like butterflies ethered and pinned some eccentric's collection. There is a surface beauty to the poem, but all these people, those who've interrupted our narrator's browsing, are stick figures all. Campbell's descriptions are worked over, padded with overly precise detail that sounds mechanical, unnatural. Attitude as well ruins the mood, with the asides about tourists with their cell phones and cameras seeking an unnatural process of memory preservation belonging more in a reckless, full tilt rant rather than a poem that at best would claim to be a skillfully rendered sketch. We have a here a poem that at the least offensive sounds like lines that have been saved and taken out of a drawer.It satisfies as nothing at all, and the material is so dry that these lines could be used as kindling.