Black Lawrence Press, 2017
There is a species of playful mortality, not madcap or manic but filled with the sadness and gladness of revelry. It can best be aligned, I suppose, with our culture’s new found interest in Stoicism. Aesthetically speaking, playful mortality would be a kind of work immersing us in the chilling grace of living rather than mere pastoral allure. Such is the case reading Marc McKee’s new poetry collection Consolationeer, where we encounter a metaphysical poetry of experience grounded in the lived body as the first poem ‘Line Segment’ portends at its conclusion:
First we are not, which we
again will come to be, a fact so fantastic
we fly like disasters, emerging almost elegant
in our urgency, a trail of falling honeysuckle
and smoke in our wake.
Part of the thrust of this collection as the title suggests is a kind of solace won through not grim acceptance but smiling resignation, a move that is freeing and terrifying in its uplift.
We see this in a triptych of poems showing up in each section of the collection: ‘We Are All Going to Die, and I Love You,’ ‘I Love You and We Are All Going to Die,’ and ‘We All Die Going to Love, and I’re You.’ In the first, we read a lovely blending of casual experience and heightened meditation, “Our fingertips/ flicker, signing the flickering sky// desperation–How much energy we waste on desperation/ even as we eat of the risotto called into temporary being./ The lovely slinks to the kitchen radio. I am in the past,/ she is pushing a wooden spoon/ into an evolving taste that starts moving into us.” Then, in the second, we feel McKee’s kind of menace lurking in the subtext,
Had I the right
bone structure, I would fly
into your twilight this instant and lick your ear
right with honey. I would tell you something
you never remember precisely enough
to say, but as the scarred horizon starts to burn
toward you–for surely, surely
the world is ending–you keep building it
in your mouth as you remember
every single person you ever loved.
Though dark, this isn’t a poem of doom. Rather, it is a frequent maneuver McKee uses to turn us away from finality in endings towards experiencing continuity. Once readers have worked their way through the collection to the third of this set, they are primed for genesis:
but stop believing a metaphysics is possible
and then a school of metaphysics appears
across the street from a library
that grows and grows, until it is over
it will never be over
I don’t know if I would quite agree these poems are “about the apocalypse – how we define it, how we describe it, how we contend with it emotionally and philosophically.” Rather, it seems McKee’s collection is less about apocalypse than a kind of miraculous dread, delight in existentialism: “Destruction cannot be separated from its allure.” (‘Your Restlessness Will Make You a Celebrated Flight Risk’) I say this because there doesn’t feel as though there is anything (practically speaking) threatening or looming in McKee’s work; there is no specific horror or trauma motivating the revelations of the poems. Instead, we read poems blending the minute observations of pastoral lyrics with a flirting kind of narrative pushing us into a space of genuine wonder.
There is a glorious kind of comedy to McKee’s poetry, a reveling in the absurd. The poems of Consolationeer aren’t interested in being clever for clever’s sake, in being needlessly opaque, mindlessly uplifting in the vagary of beautiful metaphor, or elliptical (each genuine temptations for all contemporary poets). These are poems looking to ground you by allowing your mind to feel the terror of our banal machines, the withering ordinary exchanges and encounters which provoke us to love so intensely.
Marc McKee is the author of What Apocalypse? (New Michigan Press, 2008); Fuse (Black Lawrence Press, 2011); and Bewilderness (Black Lawrence Press, 2014). Consolationeer is his third full-length collection, and a fourth, Meta Meta Make-Belief, is due from Black Lawrence Press in early 2019. Recent poems appear in Rockhurst Review, The Laurel Review, H_NGM_N, Copper Nickel, Inter|rupture, Memorious, Southern Indiana Review, and others. Here, recent means since about 2015. Three of his poems have been translated into Ukrainian and are included in Anthology of Young Poetry of the U.S.A. (A-BA-BA-HA-LA-MA-HA Publishers: Ukraine, 2016). He teaches at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where he lives with his wife, Camellia Cosgray, and their son, Harold.