Wake: Up to Poetry
A Lil’ Bit of Lit. Crit.
As promised last week, we at the Press would like to take a moment to dive a little deeper into Boston College’s recent review of Medbh McGuckian’s My Love Has Fared Inland. As previously mentioned, it was nice to see BC’s reviewer, Heather Bryant Jordan, point out the same elements of movement in My Love Has Fared Inland that we’ve often noticed ourselves. However, what’s more interesting about Jordan’s review is that she focuses in on one element of McGuckian’s work that many critics have failed to see: the subtle presence of boundaries between that which is internal and that which is external. When reading McGuckian’s newer works, it is often our first tendency as readers to melt into the seamlessness of her imagery, so much so that critics rarely discuss when or why McGuckian’s “verbal gymnastics,” her manipulations of these common boundaries, create moments of traction or sudden shifts in scenes. As Jordan writes
[Her poems] explore the idea of depiction, the relationship between the artist and her material, between who she is and how she sees …. She postulates that what goes on in the human mind directly affects the external universe, in a powerful and not necessarily positive way. By bringing together the workings of her mind with the fluctuation in the natural world, she shows her readers the difference poetry can make …. For McGuckian, the act of writing inhabits the space between the private and the public, the internal and the external. Although poetry can illuminate this gap, it carries its own difficulties …. whatever she sees must be transformed into language.”
For example, if one were to compare the poem we shared last week, “Time-Words,” to the works in this later collection, one would find that McGuckian has accelerated the fluidity of her style by continuing her use of interwoven metaphors and, over time, finding language that can instill these metaphors themselves with a sense of motion. Nevertheless, there will always be moments where one’s vision moves too quickly for words to convey. As Jordan puts it, “That is the burden of the poet. No matter how her words can arch, twist, and reach, there will always be a beauty beyond language.” However, what so captivating about McGuckian’s work is that her poems never deny the fact that these schisms between vision, nature and language do sometimes occur. In “Watching the Owls with You,” There is a particular stanza in which McGuckian’s usual evolution of imagery halts all together in order to draw attention to the disorientation of the moments at which these images begin to shift and change:
But what she knew
of the nature of the sky
and the crushing of the heart
was the failure of place,
confusing two kinds of space:
where the beginning ends,
and where you see the beginnings
of your self being seen—
a difference that is the symptom
In the end, despite the fact that McGuckian could easily maintain her rapid seamlessness by leaving these realizations of her boundaries out, she instead chooses to slow her poetry down for a moment to take them into stride, thus providing us with the most accurate portrayal of what really happens when a poet must take an inseparable reel of human experiences and anchor them to a page.