Florida Poems

Florida Poems

by Campbell McGrath
     
 

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Part fable, part diatribe, part elegy, part love song, this extraordinary fifth collection by Campbell McGrath makes poetry of the most unlikely of materials — his home state of Florida. While at times poignantly personal, McGrath also returns for the first time to the characteristically comic and visionary public voice displayed in the renowned "Bob Hope Poem

Overview

Part fable, part diatribe, part elegy, part love song, this extraordinary fifth collection by Campbell McGrath makes poetry of the most unlikely of materials — his home state of Florida. While at times poignantly personal, McGrath also returns for the first time to the characteristically comic and visionary public voice displayed in the renowned "Bob Hope Poem." Moving effortlessly from prehistory to the space age, he catalogues Florida's natural wonders and historical figureheads, from Ponce de León to Walt Disney, William Bartram to Chuck E. Cheese — "the bewhiskered Mephistopheles of ring toss,/the diabolical vampire of our transcendent ideals." In the brilliant sociohistorical monologue of "The Florida Poem," McGrath employs the Fountain of Youth as a mythic symbol for both the tragic consequences of a society built on greed and cultural erasure and the diverse human potential, "which must become the fountain/for any communal future we might dare imagine."

Place-bound and tightly focused, Campbell McGrath's message is nonetheless universal, as his penetrating vision of Florida is also a vision of America — its history and hopes, failings and fulfillments, and the eternal force that transcends it all.

Editorial Reviews

Dionisio Martinez
“[Florida Poems] is part Walt Disney, part Old Testament. [McGrath] possesses and displays extraordinary dexterity.”
New York Times Book Review
“Stunning....fierce.”
Publishers Weekly
Exuberant description meets political protest and amateur natural history in this fifth volume from MacArthur grant winner McGrath (Road Atlas), whose new poems speak to his adopted state's ills and illusions. The very readable opening sequence adapts Aristophanes to tell the story of a city luxurious, based on tourism, deeply divided that flourishes, then founders, in the clouds: as McGrath's poem unfolds, his cloud metropolis comes to resemble first the United States, then Florida, complete with rampant hedonism, alligators and struggling immigrants. Awe and resentment alternate throughout short poems in the middle of the volume, which view specific locales: a long-lined lyric evokes "jasmine, egret in moonlight, trade wind through the jacaranda," while a comical villanelle explores "the annual State Fair, a very weird place." More discursive poems tag along with an early explorer or visit McGrath's wrath on Orlando, "city with the character of a turnpike restroom." Last, best and longest, "The Florida Poem" takes readers on a vatic tour of the whole state, through "technocrats and mousketeer apparatchiks" to "indigenous culture ripped from the walls/ by the wind of European arrival." Though some passages sound clunky or rushed, McGrath's gregarious phraseologies and expandable forms (one based on the alphabet, another on journals) suit his odd blend of comedy and jeremiad. Readers who take special pleasure in Billy Collins or in Florida itself will find McGrath's book something to remember. (Feb.) Forecast: Topical and colloquial enough to garner review attention, this book should also generate profiles in glossies and seems an NPR natural,, given McGrath's solid mid-career stage. The volume's theme seems guaranteed to snag home-state media: look for regional interest, and perhaps even (given the dis of Disney) some controversy. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780060527365
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
02/04/2003
Edition description:
First Edition
Pages:
112
Sales rank:
1,337,506
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.24(d)

Read an Excerpt

A City in the Clouds

1. The First Days

Nobody knew how the alligators had come to live in the
clouds
but there they were, brutishly snarling and snapping
around the feet of the first, courageous citizens to
embark,
at which point it was too late to do anything but smile
and learn to live with them, small concern at a moment
of such significance, in a world of such size and wonderment,
and anyway the alligators felt no urging toward
companionship
and soon migrated spraddle-legged and bellowing
to the far outlying cloudlands and were seldom seen again
for many years, and anyway it was all smiles, or mostly,
in those first, halcyon, most splendid of days.

It was a time of solidarity and joy, a golden age
of amazement at their audacity and luck
when the tasks of managing a new life in the stratosphere
were mastered with harmonic grace and wisdom,
serenity absorbed by nimbus of star-fall or moon-rise
to gild them as obelisks on a miraculous plateau
and cast their shadows as laughing masks
against the corrugated damask of that realm.

Great works were undertaken: the drafting of laws,
the balancing of rights and obligations. Fields were planted.
The water-harvesting machinery was assembled
and turned on; cisterns and storage ponds filled slowly
but inexorably with unrained water, liquid measure
of the blessings of present fortune and future promise.
Communal edifices were surveyed and dedicated,
lyceum and civic center, an amphitheater for town
meetings.
Flexible dwellings of thatchand mesh were woven,
simple but sturdy, in accordance with their needs,
terraces and plazas, spires and cupolas and palisades,
orchid gardens with rain-fountains hewn from the living
mist
and cantilevered footpaths cast in gulf-straddling arcs
to accommodate the magisterial vista of the world below
and the spidering industry of construction above as
day after day, week after week, a city arose in the sky.

Florida Poems. Copyright © by Campbell McGrath. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

What People are saying about this

Dionisio Martinez
“[Florida Poems] is part Walt Disney, part Old Testament. [McGrath] possesses and displays extraordinary dexterity.”

Meet the Author

Campbell McGrath is the author of nine previous books, eight of them available from Ecco Press. He has received numerous prestigious awards for his poetry, including a MacArthur Foundation “genius grant,” and a Guggenheim Fellowship. He has been published in the New York Times, Harper’s Magazine, the Paris Review, the New Yorker, Poetry, and Ploughshares, among other prominent publications, and his poetry is represented in dozens of anthologies. He teaches in the MFA program at Florida International University, and lives with his family in Miami Beach.

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