Longreads 2012: My Maureen N. McLane

Under the Influence, Daisy Fried reviews ‘My Poets,’ by Maureen N. McLane (New York Times):

Poetry clarifies our loneliness, restores texture to life’s flatnesses and abysses, makes the world bigger, and closer. Perhaps it make us interesting, even beautiful, or anyway, human. McLane’s many dictions and registers, her playful digressions and pouncing aperçus, her fast footwork that takes her from sorrow to arch amusement in half a sentence, work to demonstrate that. Even the few bits of this book that fall flat — like a self-catechism that answers questions like “Why do you read poetry?” with quotations from well-known poems — are cheerily dorky, failed in a human way. Other experiments have greater reach. “My Translated: An Abecedary” uses repetitive sentence structure to list foreign writers and the translators that enable McLane to read their work:

My Adelia Prado is Ellen Doré Watson.

My Akhmatova is Judith Hemschemeyer.

My Alberto Caeiro is Fernando Pessoa.

Repetitive structures often discourage careful reading — easy to simply skim a list like this. But in that third line, if we know Caeiro isn’t real but a persona invented by the Portuguese poet Pessoa, we begin to think this is no mere catalog. McLane’s abecedary branches into other kinds of translation: “My language poets are other language poets.” Learning to read difficult poems is an act of translation, effected by more reading. “My Paul Muldoon is Paul Muldoon.”

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What does a poem mean?, Michael Andor Brodeur reviews My Poets,’ by Maureen N. McLane (Boston Globe):

One of the most enjoyable features of “My Poets” is the sheer agility of McLane’s poetic imagination, the ease with which one line awakens another. She reads Emily Dickinson through Susan Howe, George Oppen, and (convincingly) the language of the war on terror. She travels to England to immerse herself in the tradition, only to long for William Carlos Williams (“Going to England is a fast way to become American”). And her account of reading Chaucer takes a delightful circular detour around a single pebble of his oeuvre: the word kankedort — a term for an awkward situation which appears once in “Troilus and Criseyde” and seemingly nowhere else in all of our “Englysshe.” Elsewhere, a three-page chapter on Wallace Stevens feels – perhaps appropriately – more like a Wallace Stevens tattoo; an indelible mark on her reading life, sure, but seemingly no biggie.

Her stunning centerpiece on Marianne Moore handily toggles between the rose of her “Roses Only” and H.D.’s “Sea Rose,” admiring each as a different petal (or thorn) of the same modernist bloom. And it’s not dryly posited as a thesis; it’s marked as a point of wonder for McLane – you can feel the pleasure she must have felt when first hearing their two unlikely voices tangled in associative chorus. “At her worst,” she observes at one point, “[Moore] is twee, or, alternately, insistent.” McLane hears the lesson in this, and follows it faithfully.

My Poets (Hardcover), by Maureen N. McLane

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