JUXTAPOSITIONS Medbh McGuckian “The Publisher of Inwardness”

The poetry of McGuckian challenges my agenda of placing poetry at the center of education. But the metaxological approach that goes beyond the fantasy of the egoistic poetic voice does address what are largely experienced as opacity in her poetry. I take heart in her refusal to package her vision in ways that would buy her popularity. That would be tragic— she’s that good. Anyway here’s one way in.

from The Unfixed Horizon: New Selected Poems (Wake Forest 2015)

“The intimacy does point beyond itself but in no extrinsic way because the universal it communicates is not an extrinsic idea but is the word of communication that has come to incarnation in the aesthetics of happening.” William Desmond, The Intimate Universal, 2016

The presentation of McGuckian’s New Selected by Wake Forest as THE UNFIXED HORIZON (2015) is a major document in the recovery of Lyric in our post-modern times. Restoring the text of inwardness to the fragmented wasteland has many narratives. Desmond’s metaxological vision of “wording the Between” is illuminated by “The Publisher of Inwardness.”

The poem’s narrative is clear, starting with the objective notation of situation — objective in grammar but structurally THERE for all that dislocation from the conventional scheme of nature. Putting it that way — “clear”— may raise a smile of conspiratorial irony. I only point to the convention of grounding the action in a common reality: “this is the time” before quickly taking it out of time’s conventional sense into the time of the poem. “Too warm for spruce / to sketch a deep horizon.”

The horizon is not “deep” at this point. Maybe it will deepen, maybe not.

We are, however, somewhat deep “in the receiving waters” now. How’d we get here?

Drawing on the equivocity of this temporal sense, the next stanza uses simile (“like”) to reach into time before and after (soul and “resting place of metals”). Is the grammar clear? Does the image of the soul refer to “the final resting place of metals”? By grammar I mean the rules governing the interpretation of the noun-verb sequence “I photograph asleep”: much meaning seems suspended so we keep reading.

The narrative takes the further “inward” step into the creative flow (which Desmond calls “porosity” from the myth of Eros in Plato). “Wordwork” names the act of the imagination, wording the Between. Note fidelity to the universal impermanence as opposed to an idealistic construction in which the image is repackaged in the self. There’s no recognizable “self” left after the descent.

The “I” of the “my mouth” which receives his lifetime as a word is an Other I. Reading poems often involves us in such transformations. The poem is not a record of experience as such; it is experience as such. The undecided, the plural. The “or” is the grammar of metaxological plurality. Both/and? Endings are endless.

It would be tempting to think of McGuckian as a myth-maker, and her myths are true myths about life between mortals and immortals. As the above quote by Desmond articulates, the ultimate subject (inwardness) is not a psychological construction but an “intimate” — hear the echo of Augustine — Universal. McGuckian, exploring the powers of wording, revises and re-envisions the primary act of creative communication.

Her poems are central to the rediscovery of lyric narrative and should be part of every educational reform. It’s pointless to consider education as training in the search for truth if the poetry in question simply repeats the old idealism. As the poems in “The Unfixed Horizon” amply illustrate, the creative act of “wording the Between” is, however “difficult,” a clear option to mindful readers.

Author: Tom D'Evelyn

Tom D'Evelyn is a private editor and writing tutor in Cranston RI and, thanks to the web, across the US and in the UK. He can be reached at tom.develyn@comcast.net. D'Evelyn has a PhD in Comparative Literature from UC Berkeley. Before retiring he held positions at The Christian Science Monitor, Harvard University Press, Boston University and Brown University. He ran a literary agency for ten years, publishing books by Leonard Nathan and Arthur Quinn, among others. Before moving to Portland OR he was managing editor at Single Island Press, Portsmouth NH. He blogs at http://tdevelyn.com and other sites.

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