cover image My Poets

My Poets

Maureen N. McLane. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $25 (240p) ISBN 978-0-374-21749-5

This is no layman’s guide to poetry. In this unusual book that can only be described as a love song—written in a jumpy yet satisfying mixture of prose criticism, memoir, anecdote, and imitative verse written in tribute—McLane, herself a poet and acclaimed critic of poetry, presents an esoteric tour of her personal pantheon, the poets that have shaped her life. McLane (World Enough) devotes a chapter to one or two poets at a time, and while her picks are not surprising, they are all treated surprisingly: McLane forever associates Chaucer, for instance, with the word “Kankedort,” “a lonely word whose definition can only be inferred from its single, immediate context in Chaucer’s poem.” In “My Elizabeth Bishop/ (My Gertrude Stein),” McLane makes another unlikely pairing when her failed undergraduate thesis on Stein leads her to a lifelong love of Bishop, casting the essay in flowing, a-grammatical Stein sentences: “Why did I want to be made by Stein./ She is of course very fine. Everyone thinks so except those who don’t.” Those who know a lot about contemporary poetry will find this book packed to the gills with in-jokes, deep knowledge, and scars and scuff marks from a life lived in poetry’s trenches. Newer poetry readers will be lured deeper by McLane’s boundless enthusiasm. (June)