- Series: Phoenix Poets
- Paperback: 218 pages
- Publisher: University of Chicago Press; 1 edition (November 15, 1996)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9780226561059
- ISBN-13: 978-0226561059
- ASIN: 0226561054
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.6 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 11.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 1 customer review
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,345,554 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The World at Large: New and Selected Poems, 1971-1996 (Phoenix Poets) 1st Edition
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James McMichael is one of the finest poets of his generation. Like Robert Hass and Robert Pinsky, he studied at Stanford with Ivor Winters during the late 1960s, when the Vietnam War was at its height. And like his former master, McMichael is a difficult poet to get hold of. The language in The World at Large tends to be sparse, making its impact through narrative twists and turns rather than individual lines. Yet a little patience on the reader's part will disclose a powerful, if subtle, craft at work.
The 10-page-long "Itinerary" shows McMichael's early mastery of the long poem. Still, this beautifully modulated work seems like a dry run when we turn to a mature production like "Four Good Things." In this sequence, the poet interweaves the history of Pasadena with that of his own family, and the overall effect is devastating: it's one of the great American long poems. It's also one of the few poems that capture Southern California's sleazy grandeur:
Someone from Los Angeles brought in a telephone.Another book-length sequence, "Each in a Place Apart," alternates long and short sections to narrate the disintegration of the poet's marriage--brutally, painfully, truthfully, but with sparing use of the first person pronoun. Like most of McMichael's work, the effect is altogether personal without being in the least confessional, and it works most powerfully on the subliminal level: the reader is moved without ever quite knowing how it was done. --Mark Rudman
He hooked it up in the store on the southeast corner,
rode back downtown and called and asked for
so-and-so, who wasn't there.
From Publishers Weekly
In this mix of three new poems plus work from four previous books, McMichael, for better and worse, proves himself an intense and gifted renderer of detail. "The Vegetables," from 1971, are stuffed with creepy personifications?an asparagus with "his crowns already tender, his spine giving in." The graceful and effective long poem "Each in a Place Apart" breathes freshness into the familiar crisis of a writer's entanglement with a younger woman, an ensuing divorce and years of doubt and lust. Internal monologues and small, captured moments instill honesty: "There's time for movies, now, and double solitaire. We wrestle." But in a case of overkill, the book's centerpiece, a nearly 2000-line morass titled "Four Good Things," attempts to expound on the death, from cancer, of the poet's mother. The poem is so densely packed with precise and prosaic details, there is little room for emotion, let alone charged language. The volume's title is a change-up, for McMichael's attention is leveled not at the big picture but at the world's infinite parts.
Copyright 1996 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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In those seminars I came to appreciate McMichael's intense patience in both his students' understanding of the concepts put forth in the close readings of texts, and in his belief that Ulysses is the "most readable book in the language." Until then, I'd never read any author such as Joyce with the careful and profound approach that Jim gave to everything he analyzed and everyone he met.
Back then, all I knew of Jim McMichael was that he taught Ulysses , and that he did it better than anyone I knew did anything else. Later that year, a collegue of mine had enthusiastically approached me with 'The World at Large'. My initial response was 'oh, cool, Jim writes poems'. Knocking me upside the head, my friend quickly opened the book and directed my attention to the first piece in his book length poem 'Each in a Place Apart'. I had to sit down for a minute to really grasp what it was that was happening; this virtuoso instructor who only a few months prior had introduced me to the capabilities and possibilities of language through James Joyce was once again doing it through his own writing.
Though my very personal connection to McMichael's writing is somewhat due to my friendship with him, it was ultimately the knowledge the voice in his poems have with the particulars of our most intimate and forgettable moments with ourselves and with others that ultimately won me over. 'The World at Large' covers the vast scope of Jim's poetry, beginning with his short collection entitled 'The Vegetables' which is an intensely moving and focused account of the different stages of cancer, its affects on a person's life, and on that person's family.
The next poem is the booklength 'Each in a Place Apart', a photographic, episodic collection of sharp narrative-like verse about a man's failed first marriage due to the prospects of an affair that cant wait and ultimately divide the narrator from his past, and a future he and his potential love could never fulfill for each other.
This is followed up by another tremendous booklength poem, 'Four Good Things', McMichael's story of Pasadena, California, as he remembers it through his childhood experiences and in which the adult narrator lets itself listen to again. One of the most interesting things to pay attention to in this piece is the way in which McMichael watches his hometown change with the needs of the town's people, and how the over-planning of the city, in many ways, reflects man's instinctual insecurities about those things that are out of his control. (nature, innevitable dangers and ends)
My favorite in this collection is 'Itinerary', written in the voice of a journeyman traveling the unexplored regions of the Louisiana purchase, coming head on with the unpredicatable, the vast unknown terrain that has been declared his, and the silent anxieties we all experience when we first enter into a new world.
The book ends with some of McMichaels most recent and graceful poems, my favorites being 'She', 'Pretty Blue Apron', and the title poem, 'The World at Large'. This is writing you live with, this is a great poet writing at his full capacity.