Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Mini-review: Seven Notebooks by Campbell McGrath

It’s always a pleasure to see poems first printed in Indiana Review find homes in books. So it was especially nice to see “Storm Valediction” and “Invitations” show up in Campbell McGrath’s latest collection, Seven Notebooks, just released from Ecco Press.

More on the book after the jump.

Divided, as you might guess from the title, into seven notebooks, McGrath’s latest book calls up Basho’s travelogues, where the writer uses poetry and prose to approach the same material. Indeed, some sections formally mirror those travelogues, while others echo Neruda’s Odes, Whitman’s litanies, and a whole host of borrowed and reinvented forms.

A great deal is said in these poems about other poets and about the practice of poetry. Ordinarily, I’m not a fan of poems about poetry, but something about the form of this book helps me appreciate them in a new way. And the expansiveness of these poems’ forms and subjects make it as easy to make a haiku about snack foods:

Even gulls disdain
these pretzel goldfish floating
in the baby pool

as it is to make one about poetry:

Elizabeth asks,
what’s up with this haiku thing?
Pinecones in the sand.

Like a book of hours, Seven Notebooks covers a set period of time, a year, during which we get to watch the workings of the artist’s mind. But instead of getting a glimpse into the writer’s unconscious, like we would reading Van Gogh’s letters, we see these thoughts arranged consciously and associatively. Nothing here is random. And everything is fair game, as with blueberries, which earn their own ode:
All the new poems are about blackberries.

But to praise the blueberry
is to praise the ordinary and easily obtained
pleasures of this world…

These poems are not only about those ordinary and easily obtained pleasures, they are pleasurable to read. And easily obtained.


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