I hadn’t realized right away, when I decided to buy “This Blue”, that McLane was the same poet who wrote the poems of “World Enough”, which I read earlier this year. Instead I bought it because the summary was what won me over, and my curiosity over the colour blue which I’ve noticed writers and artists enjoy using a lot lately as it has asserted its presence in the literary, artistic, and even cinematographic universes lately. (I also bought this bought for a ridiculously low price of $1 at an indie bookstore downtown which was getting rid of some of its stock and hey, for that kind of a price, I just couldn’t pass it by.)
After finishing I began to wonder if I’ll ever warm up to McLane’s work, if it’s simply an example of something that I’ll only be able to understand with time. I had less connection with the poems of “This Blue” than I did with “World Enough”, as well as less patience. It took me up until section three of the collection to begin warming up to the poems, and only in section four did I finally get into the personality of some individual ones and feel their essence. Much of the writing not only stayed on the page but also came across as surprising and slightly baffling with its structure and stylistic choice of stringing sentences together without punctuation in a way that became choppy and harsh.
Take “Terran Life” as an example. The jacket summary singles it out as an example of McLane’s masterful use of images and references, which is indeed the case on page 65 as the poem opens with words by Wordsworth and progresses into addressing the concept of travel, one that reminded me quite a bit of Rebecca Solnit and “Field Guide to getting Lost”. However the focus and precision of the writing becomes less sharp on the next page and only slightly picks up near the end. This, I found, was the case with many of the poems in this collection. The use of random slang words left me wondering why they were there so awkwardly, and the structure and choppy lines made it easy to lose the flow of the writing and created a barrier when it comes to having an engaging reading experience.
Like some previous reviewers mentioned I too wondered what exactly about “This Blue” made it a finalist for such a prestigious prize, and if perhaps I was missing something glaringly obvious. Some poems I went back and reread after getting through all of them, but even the second and third time around I didn’t pick up anything new, only found myself facing the same problems and questioning the mastery of the collection. Yes, there are memorable lines and clever thoughts. But as a whole they were swallowed up by the void created by the majority of the writing. I’ll put this away on my shelf for a good number of years, don’t know exactly how many yet, and hope that maybe with time I’ll see something I missed during my first encounter with the poems, or find reassurance in the fact that there wasn’t anything amazing nor very special about them that would be worth singling out.