Section: Arts

McLane to share poetic tradition and personal muse

McLane to share poetic tradition and personal muse

Courtesy of Joanna Eldredge Morrissey

By Elana Spivack

Tradition usually mean[s] conservativeness; I think that’s total bulls—,” visiting poet and New York University Associate Professor of English Maureen McLane said. “I’m interested in a tradition of experiment. … I think a person makes her own tradition.”

McLane, who will be speaking at Finn House today at 4:10 p.m, will expose her own tradition of poetry to Kenyon. Her event, “A Reading with Divagations,” sponsored by the English Department, will feature both her recent and older work, and McLane will also discuss her personal experience as a poet and scholar.

McLane has written four poetry collections: This Carrying Life (2005), Same Life (2008), World Enough (2010) and This Blue (2014). She also researched and wrote Balladeering, Minstrelsy and the Making of British Romantic Poetry (2008) and Romanticism and the Human Sciences (2000, 2006). She co-edited The Cambridge Companion to British Romantic Poetry (2008).

This Blue, published by Macmillan, met critical acclaim upon its release. Her assortment of nature poems move with a distinctive voice of “elegant unease,” wrote Jeff Gordinier  wrote in the New York Times  review of the quote. “These are poems that keep you on your toes, and McLane makes you aware of that right from the start,” he said in the review

McLane’s reach extends beyond poetry and literary criticism. Her innovative memoir-criticism hybrid, My Poets, also published by Macmillan, was named a finalist in the 2012 National Book Critics Circle Award in Autobiography. 

In this work, McLane guides the reader through her own impassioned experiences with her poetic heroes, visiting old classics like the works of  Percy Shelley and Geoffrey Chaucer as well as the contemporary artistry of Louise Gluck.

Her piece also exemplifies her firm belief in the fluidity between different kinds of writing. Of the different processes between poetry and criticism, McLane said she “reject[s] that distinction”, saying, “Things can coexist in the mind and create weird, interesting hybrids.” The genre-combination also depicts the multi-faceted nature of McLane’s intellectual and even personal views. “I think it’s richer and truer to the texture of my mind than an engagement with a single genre or mode,” she said. “Part of what I in my life have chosen to take in is poetry. … [Others] can chose to take in punk music or physics or mechanics.”

McLane first became attracted to poetry and literary criticism in school. In her essay My Impasses: On Not Being Able to Read Poetry, she recounts her first poetry classes in college, and the incredible passion that arose in her from struggling to decipher poetry. Likewise, she came to value literary criticism by being immersed in it. “Someone hands you an essay, and you think it’s interesting,” McLane said. “It’s also part of a conversation. These are things one could talk about. … There can be interesting conversations about things—poems, music, porn, anything.”

After her collegiate love affair with poetry, McLane developed her distinct poetic style by absorbing parts of her life and environment. “Other than the tradition of poetry itself, just responding to things I’ve been exposed to my whole life — that’s been a huge prompt and goad,” she said, mentioning comments she’s overheard, sociology readings and conversations with friends about subjects that inspire her. Her talk will showcase current and past poetry— “I’ll be hopefully creating some links among [my poetry] so people will have some idea of the links or swerves, and perhaps there will be some links for their own work,” she said.

As for her upcoming works, McLane said she is working on a new book of “more lyric poems,” as well as “a long narrative project” that animates a character she explored in her first book of poetry, This Carrying Life.






Comments for this article have closed. If you'd like to send a letter to the editor for publication, please email us at