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My Poets Hardcover – June 19, 2012

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1st Edition, 1st Printing edition (June 19, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9780374217495
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374217495
  • ASIN: 0374217491
  • Product Dimensions: 8.5 x 5.8 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #856,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Bookforum

To read McLane is to be reminded that the brain may be an organ, but the mind is a muscle. [...] It's a visceral kind of criticism: sexy, strange, and suspenseful. — Parul Sehgal


“To read McLane is to be reminded that the brain may be an organ, but the mind is a muscle. Hers is a roving, amphibious intelligence; she’s at home in the essay and the fragment, the polemic and the elegy. She can be confessional and clinical and ludic—sometimes all in the same sentence. What I’m trying to say is that McLane has moves. In her new book, My Poets, she invites us to read over her shoulder as she combs through ‘her’ poets, including Chaucer, H.D., Wallace Stevens, Elizabeth Bishop, Louise Glück. It’s a work of personal and poetic archaeology . . . The prose is thick with quotation and self-interrogation . . . Forensically close readings dovetail with spirited defenses of the poets posterity has misunderstood, fresh readings of the familiar, and formal experiments . . . It’s a visceral kind of criticism, sexy, strange, suspenseful . . . Language enters McLane’s body like a current. Her whole body bucks and shudders. Her responses are forcefully somatic . . . and matched by the syntactical sophistication of her thought, her attraction to contradiction . . . McLane’s personality, her laconic wit and iconoclasm, suffuse this book . . . There is explicit autobiography here, too, painful self-disclosure, that gives the book its emotional torque . . . This isn’t the language of criticism; this is the language of seduction, a celebration of yearning, of not-knowing and not-having . . . Susan Sontag called for an erotics of art. My Poets is that more; it is an erotics of epistemology. A celebration of meaning and mystification, of the pleasures and necessity of kankedort. As McLane writes, ‘All honor to those who wave the pure flag of a difficult joy.’” —Parul Sehgal, Bookforum

“[A] beguiling new book . . . Genially, charismatically subversive . . . In this book McLane comes into contact—repeatedly, playfully, and with great seriousness—with verbal art, and is changed by it. My Poets is a delightful shock. It’s also a friendly book, inviting readers by its own example to let poems change them too . . . McLane recognizes that we all read with baggage. She reports on that baggage, miraculously without the cloistered narcissism typical of memoir. It’s part of this book’s strength, and its broad appeal, that McLane is willing to get personal while also tossing off niftily worded assessments of poems . . . My Poets is McLane’s story of learning to embrace the ambivalence of her own taste in poems and in people, and of learning to live and read in contradiction . . . Poetry clarifies our loneliness, restores textures to life’s flatness and abysses, makes the world bigger, and closer. Perhaps it makes us interesting, even beautiful, or anyway, human. McLane’s many dictions and registers, her playful digressions and pouncing aperçus, her fast foot-work that takes her from sorrow to arch amusement in half a sentence, work to demonstrate that.” —Daisy Fried, The New York Times Book Review
“Those seeking a critical introduction to Chaucer, Elizabeth Bishop, Gertrude Stein, Wallace Stevens, William Carlos Williams, Marianne Moore, H.D., Louise Glück, Fanny Howe, Dickinson or Shelley—Ms. McLane’s titular poets—will find something much more exhilarating . . . and impassioned. At a time when execrable “lyric essays” flourish as an excuse to avoid critical thinking, Ms. McLane has written lyrical essays that justify the genre . . . Ms. McLane’s discussions of her poets are interwoven with autobiographical accounts of what was going on in her life when she discovered them . . . she is able to elucidate why poetry can matter to a life without straining for the unconvincing uplift that mars so many books on poetry written for a general audience . . . [McLane] is clearly having fun . . . If you already love poetry, Ms. McLane’s book will rekindle old passions and ignite new ones. And if you don’t already love poetry, well, the central insight of My Poets, as of all literary criticism, is laid out in Ms. McLane’s chapter on ‘My Shelley / (My Romantics)’: ‘I had no imagination so I sought out the imaginers’ . . . There’s no way to convince a young person who doesn’t read that in order to have an imagination one must first seek out the imaginers, that without them a life is less. You can only place a book in her hands and hope for a spark. This book would do.” —Michael Robbins, The New York Observer

“Over the course of the 15 chapters of My Poets, McLane leads us (and herself) back down the paths she took to the poets and poems she loves, showing us where she stumbled along the way—and in doing so, authorizing us to trip and fall, too. (Or, perhaps, to veer off course entirely.) Throughout, McLane stays true to that proven tenet of poetic practice: Show, don’t tell . . . This isn’t just McLane clicking “Like” on a pantheon of poetry all-stars. These are her readings, her connections, her poets, and her weird, winding trail from one to the other . . . They highlight her impressive directness and clarity, her keen ear for language, and a deep well of memory . . . reading McLane’s readings is like following the faint lines of a crude map she drew as she forged intuitively along . . . 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 . . . An invigorating mix of criticism, memoir, and marginalia from a writing life, My Poets wisely avoids slapping another sales pitch on poetry. If anything, McLane shows that poetry, and the wonders within, have been ours all along. She reminds us that poetry is bigger than all of us, yet exclusive to each of us; and that, when faced with a difficult poem, the reader’s role is never to tame it, but perhaps to simply heed some other wise words from Moore: ‘The thing is to see the vision and not deny it; to care and admit that we do.’” —Michael Andor Brodeur, The Boston Globe

“Throughout My Poets, her collection of beautiful, experimental essays, McLane's thinking through and appraising other poets is the central, commanding event . . . McLane's native attitude is soulful, metaphysical and witty . . . Together in the haze, McLane and her poets possess each other . . . thinking through these lines for meaning, syncopating confession with critique, McLane demonstrates across this gorgeous, humming collection, that we turn to poetry, as Dickinson sings, ‘To Keep the Dark away.’” —Walton Muyumba, NPR

“McLane is deliriously in love with poetry, and My Poets is an audacious, challenging, endearing work that defies all categorization . . . McLane’s spiky, precise prose veers, slips and blooms into poetry and back again. Her choices are self-declaredly personal and deeply idiosyncratic. Ranging widely over the English and American literary tradition, McLane underscores the arbitrariness of what in a writer strikes us, moves us, grips us, lingers with us . . . Like her beloved Dickinson, McLane is a fearless explorer of the ‘liminal zone’ in both life and art. Hers is a book about haunting, possession, and the fluidity of identity: ‘you are never sure what you might be made by.’ McLane makes herself vulnerable, again and again, to poetry’s surprising power and allows herself to be transformed, shaken up, transfigured by it . . . My Poets is at once an exuberant, even giddy, reveling in poetic fecundity and a carefully controlled and highly crafted analysis of individual poets and poems. Searching and at times sentimental but never wimpy, impassioned but never strident, it’s a little history not only of the growth of a poet’s mind but also of the shaping of a sensibility, an ethic and a character. And it’s a testament to the vital relevance of literature to our daily lives.” —Priscilla Gilman, The Chicago Tribune

“This is a vital, personal book about books, the idiosyncratic poetics of poets and poems. My Poets reminds us that the realm of letters remains a republic, in which the books we read tell the stories of our own lives . . . My Poets emphasizes its adjective and its noun alike. McLane offers openly—and brilliantly—what some critics refuse to admit: Her idiosyncrasies are her only way of reading, as mine are mine, yours yours.” —Dave Lucas, The Plain Dealer (Cleveland)

“Maureen N. McLane’s My Poets is a strange, provocative hybrid of criticism, memoir and poetry . . . in many ways strikingly original, My Poets charts the genesis of McLane’s development as a reader and writer, from the baffled Harvard undergraduate encountering Charles Olson and Frank O’Hara for the first time (she bravely offers us her youthful marginalia to the “The Day Lady Died”) to her current position as a poet and critic of great sensitivity and sophistication . . . Often McLane allows her prose to be contaminated by her subjects, or, rather, sets herself the task of animating them, a kind of ventriloquism that works both as homage and as a springboard for a flexible, suggestive form of criticism whose possibilities extend beyond those of more traditional exegesis . . . The subtlety and humour with which McLane traces these elusive dialogues between a large cast of poets, all the while describing their entanglement with and influence on the course of her own life and thought, make for an exhilarating, and often very moving, book.” —Oli Hazzard, The Times Literary Supplement“[An] incandescent new collection of criticism . . .  a book that may do more to cha...

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
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See all 5 customer reviews
This is a remarkable, moving book.
I say, relax and enjoy the beauty of a linguistic athlete at play, as well as relish the chance to stretch yourself a little!
Patricia Norton
McLane's book is an archaeology of the self -- through the materials of poetry.
Margaret Thompson

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Margaret Thompson on June 21, 2012
Format: Hardcover
McLane's book is an archaeology of the self -- through the materials of poetry. She examines her changing response to the same lines. She is conscious that a critic does not have an objective perspective, but one that is dynamic, shifting, and vulnerable. She looks at poetry as biographical meaning. She is not concerned for the poem alone, but who the poet is through the poem. Digging into her past, into the love and loss of a woman, she allows the memories and lost presence to suffuse everything.

This book reminds us that verse is not meant to be read... it is meant to be lived. That poetry is only rewarding, sometimes, when truly difficult -- that is, when the reader overcomes herself, to meet the poem as poet-in-poem. As McLane shows, when the reader accomplishes this, her own life will paradoxically enliven and inform the poem with her own breath and memories. But at this point, the reader has gone beyond simple associations. She has reached the life- and poetry-defining point of deep readership.

Whether you're the type who enjoys word and language manipulation yourself, a la Parlett's THE Book of Word Games -- or you prefer to watch expert world-bending in action, a la Borges' Labyrinths, you will find yourself in good company here.
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24 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Ken C. TOP 1000 REVIEWER on January 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
At times it was like crashing the gates of a private club or MFA Poetry program and reading bylaws meant for members only (more on that in a moment). And at times it was like reading someone's (OK, Maureen McLane's) thesis paper on this poet or that. And my, but McLane writes in a pretty how town way. Professorial stuff:

"Through Sappho she explored as well a kind of somatic poetics, a kind of sensually incarnational NOW." (Huh?)

"The vatic inward versus the detailed observed. The hieratic versus the potentially conversable." (Say wha-?)

"Much of the force of great modernist works arises from their desublimating impulse channeled into shatteringly, newly adequate forms..." (Again?)

Very impressive indeed, these $10 gibbers and $5 -ishes. I hadn't a clue, but I nodded at all the right moments. Some chapters dragged on forever. "My Marianne Moore and Moore and More and More and Will She Ever Stop?" That and one to "H.D." Hilda Doolittle? I'd never known this poet. I wear my ignorance on my sleeve but, deep in my vest, wanted to learn -- if only I could clear the vatic hurdles of incarnational, desublimating language.

In another chapter called "My Translated: An Abecedary," McLane deluges the reader with four pages of one liners, each saying things like "My Alcaeus is David A. Campbell," "My Akhmatova is Judith Hemschemeyer," "My Durs Grunbein is Michael Hofmann," "My Paul Muldoon is Paul Muldoon." Of course there are some poets the layreader will recognize, but they are few and far between, and seldom will many readers recognize both names in McLane's apparently clever pairs.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Patricia Norton on March 1, 2013
Format: Hardcover
I must admit, I don't understand the anger of one reviewer at what he views as exclusionary language in Maureen McLane's "My Poets" -- that's like playing tennis with Serena Williams and being angry because she's making great shots that you can't replicate. I say, relax and enjoy the beauty of a linguistic athlete at play, as well as relish the chance to stretch yourself a little!

This is a beautiful book; playful, sensitive, funny and filled with the joy of reading and responding to poetry and words -- the chapter on the Chaucerian word 'kankedort' is worth the price of the book -- and Maureen McLane drenches us in the language of the poet both through quotation and by allowing the particulars of the poet's language to seep into McLane's own prose. You may or may not agree with her understanding of the essentials of any given poet's language, but she brings you into the game with such genuine pleasure, it would be a shame not to accept the invitation and enjoy the chance to move with an expert.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By lucretia on November 30, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The poet, Maueen McLane, writes of her visceral responses to various poems and includes some "found" poems of her own. This is a remarkable, moving book. Would that poetry were taught this way in schools. Everyone would read it.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful By James M. Cronin on March 25, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is a testimonial to the poets who have influenced the writer, herself a fine practitioner of the craft. It is a personal book. "Her" poets are not "my" poets, but the process she goes through contains an important message for anybody who takes poetry seriously.
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