McGrath ( Selected Poems 1938-1988 ), who died last year, wrote poetry that uncovers the sublime in the common. This collection adds to his store of popular wisdom, but the beauty and power of its language transcends the limitations he found in ordinary life. Descending ``through the guts of the great misery machine,'' his metaphor for capitalist society (he was an avowed communist, for which he was blacklisted as a screenwriter), the poet longs ``to pass from this anguish of passings / Into the calm of an indifferent joy.'' While filled with deep political convictions--``Politics is the continuation of war / by other means''--McGrath invokes a world that politics cannot divide: ``It's a lonesome old world as the old song says: waiting for transport. / But time and again a friend brightens a dark door.'' This is the essence of his communism: community, a life made whole by collective action. Until that time arrives, in McGrath's opinion, ``That's what we are: / Seeds in the cold wind. . . / The wind always blowing. . . .'' His words, like a Zen master's, remind us that the secret of life is in the living of it. (Feb.)
This appropriately titled posthumous collection features poems in two modes. The first is leftist political diatribe against the ``continuation of false consciousness/And falsified policy and politics . . . ./By the falsified desires of American imperialism/By presidents wedded to cowboys and missles . . ./ By the trained psychopathic liars of the State Department.'' Fortunately, in addition to this mode of stentorian denunciation, McGrath was also capable of crafting lovely, haiku-like epiphanies, such as in ``Winter Goodnight'': ``The first deep frost/ of a cold autumn/ Beautiful! On the flowers and grass./ But I miss the last song/Of my frozen cricket.'' Chiefly of interest to the poet's fans and old- and new-left true believers.-- Frank Lepkowski, Oakland Univ., Rochester, Mich.
During the last years of his life, McGrath found it extremely difficult--often impossible--to write. Still he continued to write new poems, enlarging his work-in-progress, Death song, knowing the book would be finished only upon his own death. He died September 20, 1990 following a long illness, leaving the manuscript in the hands of his editor, Sam Hamill. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)