Tag Archives: Lynn McGee

“The Affinity School”: A conversation with poet Lynn McGee

9/1/19 (A palindrome of time)

Lynn McGee and I recently exchanged a set of questions about each other’s latest volumes of poetry, and the ensuring conversation has just been published.

Methods and Materials: The Sojourns of Affinities

As a “sneak preview,” I present our opening queries:

Lynn McGee: When I opened the padded envelope with The Headwaters of Nirvana: Reassembled Poems, I stood at the kitchen counter reading almost the entire book. I’m thinking now of the pivots and line breaks in “Vallejo,” the precise unfolding of images in “Eye Chart for an Orbiting Space Station.” Of course, I recognize many of the poems, like “Rules for Building a Labyrinth,” which you set into a letterpress pamphlet in the nineties. I also noticed some familiar poems aren’t in this new book, like the one about a roommate who leaves broken glass on the kitchen floor. I know your editors selected the poems for this collection. Did their choices surprise you? What are your thoughts on how to assemble a collection of poetry?

* * *
Lynn, I’d like to talk about the title of your new collection. While the cover art reinforces the image of public transportation, the word “tracks” also has the common association of physical footprints. In your poem, “Sign,” the opening image is of your perilous trudge through snow and ice, “feet deep in the prints of those who gone / before me.” On a literary level, one could think of any poet’s work as walking in a similar manner. Are there any particular poets who influenced this project?

* * *

I hope you find our answers to these and subsequent questions as tantalizing as I did upon re-reading this collaborative interview. I want to thank Lynn McGee for all her work on this project.

Lynn McGee is the author of the poetry collections Tracks (Broadstone Books, 2019); Sober Cooking (Spuyten Duyvil Press, 2016), and two award-winning poetry chapbooks: Heirloom Bulldog (Bright Hill Press, 2015) and Bonanza (Slapering Hol Press, 1997). Her poems are forthcoming or appeared recently in The Tampa Review, Lavender Review, The American Journal of Poetry, Potomac Review, The American Poetry Review and Southern Poetry Review. McGee earned an MFA in Poetry at Columbia University, taught writing at private and public colleges and led poetry workshops in NYC public schools. A 2015 Nominee for the Best of the Net award, McGee received a Recognition Award from the NYC Literacy Center, and Heart of the Center Award from the NYC LGBT Center. Today she is a communications manager at Borough of Manhattan Community College, The City University of New York.

Bill Mohr is the author of The Headwaters of Nirvana / Los Manantiales del Nirvana, a bilingual collection of poetry from What Books/Glass Table Collective, 2019. An internationally recognized poet whose work has been translated into Croatian, Italian, Japanese and Spanish, Mohr authored Hold Outs,The Los Angeles Poetry Renaissance, 1948-1992 (University of Iowa Press, 2011). He holds a Ph.D. in Literature from the University of California, San Diego and is a professor at California State University, Long Beach. Editor and publisher of Momentum Press, 1974-1988, his own poems, prose poems, and non-fiction essays have appeared in dozens of magazines, including Antioch Review; Blue Collar Review; Caliban On-Line; Miramar; Santa Monica Review; Sonora Review; Blue Mesa Review; Spot Lit; Skidrow Penthouse; and ZYZZYVA. His many anthology appearances and on-line reprints include POETRY DAILY; all three editions of Stand Up Poetry; as well as volumes such as Grand Passion; Wide Awake; and Coiled Serpent. His stand-alone volumes of poetry include Hidden Proofs (1982); Penetralia (1984); Bittersweet Kaleidscope (2006) and a bilingual volume published in Mexico, Pruebas Ocultas (Bonobos Editores, 2015). Mohr’s critical commentary, articles, and reviews have been published in Chicago Review; William Carlos Williams Review; Journal of Beat Studies; New Review of Literature; OR; IdeAs (Idees d’Amerique); and the Los Angeles Review of Books. His academic awards include a Visiting Scholar residency at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, as well as awards from the Huntington Library in San Marino.

Double Bill: “The First Monday in May”; Lynn McGee Interview by Elaine Sexton

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Linda and I recently watched “The First Monday in May,” a very fine documentary film on the intersection of the fashion world and “high art.” The title refers to one of the few days that the Metropolitan Museum of Art is closed to the public; it is hardly empty space, though. The museum hosts a major annual fundraiser on that day, which in the case of this particular film featured an exhibit about the confluence of Chinese fashion on the Western world. I confess that I have never been able to whip up much enthusiasm for fashion or to understand how couture could be an equivalent for literary consciousness. From a very early age, it was clear to me that economic privilege permitted one layer of society to deploy fashion as a way to make those who did not possess any physically attractive features even more marginal and disregarded. It was a way of spitting on another person’s soul.

With the exception of Ron Silliman and his commentary on Project Runway, I have known very few writers or artists who were interested in fashion. After watching “The First Monday in May,” however, I have had a tiny awakening. The challenge of assembling the exhibit and staging the fundraiser proved to be an intense viewing experience. I had to stop it after an hour, in fact. Linda and I felt pulled into the vortex of each moment’s refulgent intentionality: nothing was done outside of a devotion to the exquisiteness of each moment’s possibility. The material and the immaterial embraced each other with complete commitment to the future’s need for present tense rarity. Even if you loathe the idea of fashion more than I did, I urge you to watch this film. It was pure succor.

Poetry remains my primary interest, however, in keeping this blog in motion. I regret that I can’t review as many books as I would like to, but will get to some of them in the next couple of months. Others will just have to wait until next year. In the meantime, I want to post an interview featuring Lynn McGee, one of the poets I have been able to review in recent months (May 11, 2016).

A Conversation Between Poets: Lynn McGee and Elaine Sexton on Loss and Love

A Conversation Between Poets: Lynn McGee and Elaine Sexton on Loss and Love
by Elaine Sexton
October 4, 2016

Should the conversation make you curious about Lynn’s earlier poetry, here is a reading she did on a public access television show I did called “Put Your Ears On”:

Wanting Animals on Her Side: a review of two books by Lynn McGee

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Wanting Animals on Her Side: a review of two books by Lynn McGee

In a book about prosody, Karl Shapiro commented that “rhythm is the total sound of a line’s movement.” Contemporary poets who prefer free verse often seem to have a difficult time getting stressed syllables to coordinate their pivot points with precisely peculiar consonants and vowels. (Hence, the prosaic quality of much of contemporary poetry.) One poet whose gift has been honed through long practice is Lynn McGee, whom I first met back in the mid-1980s, just before she moved to NYC. Although a chapbook, Heirloom Bulldog, arrived in my mailbox several months ago, I am only now getting around to writing about it in conjunction with the very recent publication of a full-length collection, Sober Cooking.

One of the most remarkable features of Heirloom Bulldog is its thematic concentration on hunger. In McGee’s configuration, the appetite never doubts its unappeasable epistemology: it quivers through our beings as a desire ominous in its self-attachment; we cannot relinquish it except at the peril of extinction. Each individual creature in this menagerie of poems is poised at an existential edge in which its choices seem to serve as its species’ proleptic fate. Whether coyote, wild boar, lizard, python, rat, lioness, crow, pigeon, or wasp, McGee depicts the peculiar hybrid of a dilemma each finds itself oscillating within. The narrator extends her empathy (“I have always wanted animals / wanted them on my side.”), but only so far. The first poem recalls her first use of a weapon to kill a rabbit, and in doing so, she acknowledges the irreversible momentum of a predator’s consciousness: (“Something had to be stopped, / and it would not be me.”) Later on in the sequence, she conflates the imagery from a televised program of baby elephants brought down by a pack of lionesses with the end of a romantic relationship that she has terminated with equal deliberation.

On at least one occasion, McGee hints that an animal is a prosthetic symbol for her own struggle to ground herself in a solid continuity:

this invasion thrills me;

a creature that seized his place

when others said,

you don’t belong.

(

The same tone of fierce persistence concludes her tribute to coyotes, in which she describes them as:

….a panting blur

hovering at the edges of dreams,

not so much wanting in,

as already there.

That McGee’s poems have been “already there” for quite some time is evident in her full-length collection, Sober Cooking. These poems focus on the discontinuity of attachment; the human animal turns out to be as hungry for submersion in the company of another person as any physical pang for nutrition. That need is strong enough to endure death vigils, and Sober Cooking is especially impressive in keeping control of feelings that could easily boil over.

Sober Cooking devotes many of its poems to meditating on a love relationship with a woman suffering from a defective heart, which must be replaced if she is to survive and live to any age resembling a normal life-span. The book, therefore, flutters within a field of poetics that converts what might have tended toward the confessional school and brings it closer to memoir. The intensity of the life or death situations of these poems serves as a reminder of how we ourselves should proceed:

I see your surprised smile

as I pull out a tiny bottle,

squeeze a glistening bead

onto your fingers

I’m giving you all kinds

of permission – and I feel

that tender rush, as you

slow us down.

In “Dinner Date” McGee recounts the importance of lingering. A lover chooses an image of “a pink cactus splayed / against stucco” to magnify. The thumb and forefinger deftly coax eros out of hiding as the “lavender tongue, / ….. the nodding spiky bloom” becomes a quietly consecrated foretelling.

Of late, I have yearned for more formal arrangements in poetry, and often find myself wanting a more emphatic drum kit providing percussion to the poem’s upswelling. My guess is that not many reviews will mention McGee’s lineation. Though free verse has long gone beyond being a given poetics, McGee gives it an edge in her best poems that accentuates our language’s percussive capacities for dialogic insight into a poem’s themes.

An attendant

with a merman’s wet, black curls

rolled me down a hallway

under a fluorescent keyboard –

dark, light, dark, light, dark –

and I was stored somewhere safe.

Then a nurse was standing

by my bed, offering

apple juice and crackers,

and I was back

in the world of teeth

and trains, the world I hate

and love.

(“The Dark Visit Before a Routine Procedure”)

The alternation of dark and light is more than mere visibility. It hints at the kind of uncertain on-off switch of choice that underpins the human predicament: “There are two kinds of people – those afraid / of heights, and those who imagine / jumping” (“Flight”). The heartbeat of “dark. light, dark. light, dark” is the echo at the core of McGee’s quiet, almost whispered meditations. The pulse of Sober Cooking is worth putting your fingers to, if only to help you feel your own heart beat for all its worth: the risk of giving yourself to someone else.