An acclaimed poet considers the predecessors who shaped her art and life in this idiosyncratic mix of literary survey and intellectual biography.
Using her skills as a poet and critic, McLane (English/New York Univ.; World Enough: Poems, 2010, etc.) examines the major poets of her life and the inspiration and technique she drew from each. There’s Elizabeth Bishop, “a sea to breathe in once the gills you needed grew and breathing grew less strange.” From William Carlos Williams she learned to draw from her own pure and crazy American experience. She dissects Marianne Moore’s poem “Marriage” at length, weighing it against her own failed marriage and subsequent same-sex relationship. She identifies with H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), the closeted lesbian, and finds that her poem “Oread” “bespeaks our desire to commune, to hear and be heard, to make the chaos of inner feeling not only sentient but sharable.” McLane responds to Louise Glück’s powerful willfulness and finds that Fanny Howe’s poems reveal “a refusal to turn away even as they seek asylum…to participate in the sick fictions of success or easy safety.” Percy Bysshe Shelley is the muse of the author’s sexual radicalism; she loves his youth, excess and intelligence. “To immerse yourself in him is to move through an extraordinary medium of thinking songs, sung thoughts,” she writes. McLane’s book is a gutsy poetic act on its own, as she writes measured, metrical prose that alters between rhythmic and affected, dropping commas or shifting perspective at will, as if in mimicry of her subjects.
A perceptive reflection on the reading and writing life by a poet who has embraced her own personal anxiety of influence.