'Rain Mirror' by Michael McClure
J. W. Bonner
Michael McClure's latest collection divides into two long sequences: a collection of 50+ haiku and a selection of offshoots of earlier poems, graftings that have been transplanted into new poetic terrains. These poems dive rather than walk across the page, vertical plumbings as opposed to standard horizontal renderings. Apropos of this Beat poet, most lines are only a beat, a syllable. Although a little does go a long way in many of these poems, too much doesn't go far enough, finally.
Given the space limitations, let me point to the collection's strengths. The opening sequence of haiku share the Japanese origins in a focus on "seasons and special subjects," but an owl might be incongruously—but aptly, given McClure's home near San Francisco—paired with garbage cans. Petals, flowers, insects, and animals figure in these poems and vie for space with cars, bandaids, helicopters, and phones. The haiku are presented as vertical strips, and they are stripped to syllables and letters. The tone of the poems is often informal ("HEY, IT'S ALL CON / SCIOUSNESS"). Nonetheless, at their best, fine images abound. For example, look at how McClure depicts the rim of light seeping into closed eyes: of "NOTH / ING / NESS / of intelligence; / silver / sunlight / through / closed / eyelids." Capillary brightness gleans in a center of blackness, darkness—just as with mental drift or the incipient stages of sleep the mind actively continues along certain pathways, even when they are not directed. Nice comparisons include pine bough tips with monkey fingers or a sunlit butterfly with a light show at the Filmore—both psychedelic.
The poems in the second section depict a kind of "Reason / whose details are confusion." Written in the aftermath of personal trials ("after meltdown"), these poems, too, extend down the page. At their best, the images are plain and domestic: "Scarlet lipstick all over / the frail cobalt cup / fine / as the mind / of a moth." But then the jarring smashing of the poetic prettiness at the poem's conclusion: "A handful of excrement smeared / on a wall."
McClure thinks of images as big as God's "HUGE FACE," but the best of these "SMALL" poems have "a soul / like an opal." McClure wisely quotes Whitehead's statement, which applies equally to the writing of (good) poems: "We think in generalities but we live / in detail." The best of these poems are replete with the details of daily living.