Capacity, the extraordinary new collection from the award-winning poet James McMichael, deliberates an earth that supplies what people need to live. Land, water, sky, food, shelter, thought, talk, sex—each is addressed at the pace of someone dense with wonder's resistance to take for granted even the smallest or most obvious parts of existence.
"[McMichael's] strongest work . . . What makes him so unique in American poetry right now is the strength and subtlety with which he blends conceptual ambition with emotional power."—Peter Campion, The Yale Review
"McMichael is the 13-year cicada of poetry. With roughly the same regularity he surfaces, sheds his old skin and delivers a song that's entirely his own. Since 1980, his sole contributions to the genre (excluding a 'new and selected') have been three book-length poems, each strikingly different from the others and from anything else on the market. In Capacity, he has exchanged the long lines and explicit autobiography of the previous two for dispassion, elision and lines as short as a syllable. What hasn't changed is his commitment to close scrutiny . . . Everything, from immigration patterns to heartsickness, is described in the same objective, almost clinical tone—a strange and wonderful choice, lending disproportionate power to the subtlest gestures."—Eric McHenry, The New York Times Book Review
"McMichael's calm, smart verse essays and poetic narratives attracted critical acclaim, if never a broad following, during the 1980s; his sixth book pursues its intellectual ambition with renewed attention and verve, and comprises just seven poems. The lead poem, 'The British Countryside in Pictures,' provides a frame for the whole, placing the story of Britain's evacuee children (sent from cities to farmland during the Blitz) within contexts from economic history and geology to the beginnings of one child's life. From details and antecedents within this story (perhaps, though McMichael does not specify, the story of his own family) derive the other topics here: the horrors of the Irish potato famine; reproductive science; how we make judgments; how we become ourselves amid the overlapping determinants of social class, locale, memory, biology. 'Capacity is both how/ much a thing holds and how/ much it can do,' McMichael explains in the title poem, and his work proves capacious in both respects."—Publishers Weekly
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THE BRITISH COUNTRYSIDE IN PICTURES
The frontispiece fixes as
a man whose
livelihood is the grass. As he had
before the take and
he plies away in the sun.