Same Life Poems

Maureen N. McLane

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

128 Pages



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From the alphabet inscribed in our DNA to the stars that once told stories, Same Life maps a cosmos both intricate and vast. In her first full-length book of poems, Maureen N. McLane has written a beautifully sensual and moving work, full of passion and sadness and humor and understanding. Erotically charged lyrics conjure a latter-day Sappho; major sequences explore citizenship and sexuality, landscape and history, moving us from Etruscan ruins to video porn, ushering us through cities, gardens, lakefronts, and airplanes. Here are poems equally alert to shifts in weather and cracks in consciousness; here is a poet equally at home with delicate song and vivid polemic. Same Life evokes an American life in transit, shareable yet singular; singable, ponderable, erotic; an unpredictable venture in twenty-first-century soul-making.


Praise for Same Life

"Same Life, [McLane's] first volume of poems, has a lot to offer. She is an award-winning critic and a lecturer in history and literature at Harvard, and she reinforces my conviction that poets can be especially pleasing when engaging with a past that has claims on the unknown of obscure characters, as well as on themselves . . . Poems examining love, sexuality, and personal and political interests often fortify compelling strengths. 'Spatchcocked' is patched with vividly gratifying connections, and, like all her poetry, displays an insistently humane gaze. 'do I still turn to them . . .' quoted in part, is tender and powerful . . . [Same Life is] to be welcomed by anyone interested in daring, original, finely wrought poems."—Barbara Berman, San Francisco Chronicle

"Same Life: Poems is such a tour de force that it's hard to believe it's Maureen N. McLane's first collection. She's an established critic and professor of literature, which explains the confidence that permeates her poems. It takes a combination of hubris and humility to write variations on Sappho, and McLane has both in 'After Sappho,' a series of poems that is equal parts translation, adulation and transformation. Her range is aptly demonstrated: a lanky free-verse question-and-answer ('Catechism'), spread out across a page in a liberated invocation of William Carlos Williams; a less self-conscious than self-provoking use of rhyme in 'After Guston'; genocide as a subject in 'Report'; and cultural critique in 'Letter From Paris.' But McLane's got a razor-sharp and snarky sense of humor, too, and a deft hand at love poems . . . These are contemporary, urban poems, but they are also fully imbued with the classical poetic tradition."—Kel Munger, Sacramento News & Review
"Reading Maureen McLane's Same Life is like discovering Francois Truffaut's first films: this is an exhilarating, brilliant poet whose smart earlier essays prepared the ground. The best poems here are something new in the world, from gorgeous lyrics like ‘I wanted to crawl inside a middle voice' or ‘Populating Heaven' or ‘There is a place in the world' or ‘Core Samples' to the nervy pyrotechnics of ‘Excursion Susan Sontag.' Luminous fragments—the shattered mirror that everywhere reflects a light-filled ungraspable whole—McLane makes into a new way of possessing the world. This is a thrilling first book."—Frank Bidart

"McLane (who teaches at Harvard) has built up a national reputation as a critic and reviewer, and this debut showcases a poet who is always clear if sometimes terse or challenging, often allusive, yet open about her own life. McLane's spare free verse, splayed out across the page, draws on such seemingly antithetical resources as Grace Paley and Ezra Pound, the New York painter Philip Guston, Lorine Niedecker, the fragments of Sappho (the basis for one sharp sequence) and the resources of contemporary slang: 'we video'd our way from thing/ to thang to thong.' 'Catechism'—among McLane's more serious poems—warns 'The place I live is only sometimes shareable thus weeping.' If McLane's poems, with their white spaces and their clipped phrases, sometimes seem too fragmentary, too much like ordinary speech, often enough their rough edges turn out to be part of a careful design. Alert to tragic truths and to comic moments, politics in America and in France, urban life and country retreats, McLane concludes with what may be her strongest suit: tough-minded eroticism: 'do I still turn to them the dead/ who speak in type the way sun bursts between the legs those days/ a tongue moves so.'"—Publishers Weekly

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Maureen N. McLane

  • Maureen N. McLane's essays on poetry and contemporary culture have appeared in the Chicago Tribune, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and other major venues. Formerly a lecturer at Harvard, she now teaches at New York University.

  • Maureen N. McLane Joanna Eldredge Morrissey