The woman is dead, and she is everywhere, pulsing throughout My Poets. McLane’s hunger for poetry and for this woman are tangled; she desires to decipher them in order to possess them. McLane’s critical language is often flush with eros: “I thought I could make Stein mine,” she writes. “I thought I could read Bishop and could know that mind and make it mind my mind.” But such are McLane’s finely developed negative capabilities: She exalts in the waiting. “I am fascinated by that threshold where one hovers, not getting it yet wanting to get it,” she writes. “Where a tentative desire contends with frustration. Where frustration may be converted into desire, and desire into some provisional illumination.” This isn’t the language of criticism; this is the language of seduction, a celebration of yearning, of not-knowing and not-having. Asked to explain a line by Wallace Stevens—“Let be be the finale of seem”—she crows: “I didn’t know and I don’t and I was ecstatic.” Susan Sontag called for an erotics of art. My Poets is that and more; it is an erotics of epistemology. A celebration of meaning and mystification, of the pleasures and necessity of kankedort. As McLane writes, “All honor to those who wave the pure flag of a difficult joy.
For writers who have done Westerners the service of exploring, interpreting, and explicating haiku and the Zen practice that leads to the haiku moment, I suggest Jane Hirshfield, Robert Aitken, William Higginson, Penny Harter, Hasegawa Kai, Earl Miner, Richard Wright, Gary Snyder.
Haiku impressions Ann E. Michaels recommendations for Westerners on haiku
It’s emblematic of our societal discomfort with poetry that so many blurbs for poetry books use the word ‘unflinching.’ Actually, I think poets should flinch. We need to get better at flinching.