cover image Seven Notebooks

Seven Notebooks

Campbell McGrath, . . Ecco, $23.95 (223pp) ISBN 978-0-06-125464-2

McGrath’s poems, like huge accordion folders—can open up wide enough to let almost anything in. Chronicling a year spent partly in and around Miami, partly in the American Northeast, and mostly with the poet’s wife and young sons, this big, ambitious, optimistic volume might also be read as seven short sequences. The “Blueberry Notebook” pays explicit homage to the Pablo Neruda, with odes addressed, like the Chilean’s, to unlikely everyday things—“Ode to the Plantar Fascia”, “Ode to a Can of Schaefer Beer.” “Dawn Notebook” mixes haiku about coastal New Jersey (“What is the dune grass/ trying to do—praise the sun/ or go back to sleep?”) with long excerpts from Whitman’s prose. McGrath’s fast-moving verse and prose may strike unfriendly readers as a bit glib, skipping from observation to observation rather than dwelling intensely on any one scene. Yet, for his fans, that speed is part of the point: in these sets of journals in verse and prose, as much as in his earlier, shorter books, McGrath places his own life on a large canvas, emulating “History,” which, he writes “is continuous/ and embraces everything/ without exception.” (Feb.)