We have come to expect more from a winner of the Guggenheim and MacArthur Foundation poetry awards. This slim volume is an excellent example of how a poet can be brilliant one day and completely tired on the next.
There are, in Pax Atomica,, flashes of brilliance, as in “Infinite Needs”:
America’s hunger takes nothing for granted.McGrath’s use of the language never disappoints, so bring a dictionary along as you’re scanning the pages - you’ll need it. Be prepared to trip many a time over words like boustrophedonic and orogeny. What is lovely is that it is simply an intellectual challenge to get through a poem. This is not a collection for the hurried.
Ants hollowing fallen fruit,
Recasting the temple of the pomegranate,
Mice in their congress of grain, squirrels in the heart
Of a deciduous continental democracy,
Mountains scored by rivulets …
Some other poems in the collection are perhaps too simplistic, but how could McGrath construct complexity around a theme as basic as pop culture and growing up in the ‘60s and ‘70s? The book is dedicated to 1962, which says a lot about its genesis.
There are certainly methods to McGrath’s madness, but they are lost in the repetitive pop-culture musical references and constant toggling between narrative poetry and shorter lyrical pieces. Some poems I could not decipher, even after numerous reads, one of which was “Zeugma”:
Zeugma. From the Greek, zeugnynai, to join together; fromWhy do I want to read about the sex lives of oxen? Why does any reader? I’d have to say that they probably don’t and I certainly don’t.
a pair of animals linked at labor;
yoked oxen. The greeks of course, for whom beginnings…
Perhaps an expectation exists for poets who have won awards, or maybe it is because I am a poet myself, but I found this collection sloppy and thrown together. The language itself is crafted, but the volume could benefit from some editing. Check this one out from a library, but spend your money on a different McGrath volume.