From Brazil to Manitoba, Las Vegas to Miami Beach, 1999 MacArthur Fellow Campbell McGrath charts a poetics of place and everyday experience. Road Atlas is personal, provocative and accessible the finest work yet from "the most Swiftian poet of his generation" (David Biespiel, Hungry Mind Review).
McGrath once wrote energetically edgy, slightly difficult poems in long lines or in short prose blocks, slippery, slightly Whitmanesque catalogues of American problems, places, jobs, road trips and aggravations. He still writes them, but the edge seems diminished: the lushly topographical poems of this fourth book (most of them prose poems) have abandoned the self-skeptical oddities that made McGrath's debut, Capitalism, invigorating. Here, McGrath aims to depict an array of sites from middle America to the Latin American tropics; but the poems give the feel less of Port Olry or Miami or Tabernacle, N.J., than of a self-confident urge to describe. Part of the American Southwest is an "awful wasteland, desolate, sun-stricken, palpably grievous"; elsewhere grasshoppers' bodies are found "crushed and mangled, scaled and armatured, primordial, pharaonic." The Hoover Dam, on the other hand, is a "titanic concrete angel wing," and also "the many-chambered heart of a thing beyond our knowing." All the places the poet sees seem to stand for the human spirit, and it can thus be hard to tell them apart. The best (and most essayistic) of the book's prose blocks recall Annie Dillard in their expansive vividness. But most lack the intellective constraints, the internal questioners, that would block the road to sentimental excess. (June) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.