Biography of Campbell McGrath
Cambell McGrath is a notable modern American poet. He is the author of nine full-length collections of poetry, including his most recent, Seven Notebooks (Ecco Press, 2008), Shannon: A Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (Ecco Press, 2009), and In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys (Ecco Press, forthcoming, 2012).
McGrath was born in Chicago, Illinois, and grew up in Washington, D.C., where he attended Sidwell Friends School; among his classmates was the poet Elizabeth Alexander. He received his B.A. from the University of Chicago in 1984 and his MFA from Columbia University's creative writing program in 1988, where he was classmates with Rick Moody. He currently lives in Miami Beach, Florida, and teaches creative writing at Florida International University, where his students have included Richard Blanco, Susan Briante, Jay Snodgrass and Emma Trelles. He is married to Elizabeth Lichtenstein, whom he met while he was an undergraduate; they have two sons.
In the early 1980s, while a student at the University of Chicago, he was a member of the punk band Men From The Manly Planet.
McGrath has been recognized by some of the most prestigious American poetry awards, including the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award (for The Bob Hope Poem in Spring Comes to Chicago, his third book of poems), a Pushcart Prize, the Academy of American Poets Prize, a Ploughshares Cohen Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Witter Bynner Fellowship from the Library of Congress, and a MacArthur Foundation "Genius Award." In 2011 he was named a Fellow of United States Artists.
While primarily known as a poet, McGrath has also written a play, "The Autobiography of Edvard Munch" (produced by Concrete Gothic Theater, Chicago, 1983); a libretto for Orlando Garcia's experimental video opera "Transcending Time" (premiered at the New Music Biennalle, Zagreb, Croatia, 2009); collaborated with the video artist John Stuart on the video/poetry piece "14 Views of Miami" (premiered at The Wolfsonian, Miami, 2008); and translated the Aristophanes play The Wasps for the Penn Greek Drama Series.
Campbell McGrath's Works:
American Noise (1993)
Spring Comes to Chicago (1996)
Road Atlas (1999)
Florida Poems (2002)
Pax Atomica ( 2004)
Heart of Anthracite: New & Collected Prose Poems (UK)
Seven Notebooks ( 2008)
Shannon: A Poem of the Lewis and Clark Expedition (2009)
The Custodian & Other Poems (2011)
In the Kingdom of the Sea Monkeys (2012)
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Campbell McGrath Poems
Hemingway Dines On Boiled Shrimp And Bee...
I'm the original two-hearted brawler. I gnaw the scrawny heads from prawns, pummel those mute, translucent crustaceans, wingless hummingbirds, salt-water spawned.
An Irish Word
Canny has always been an Irish word to my ear, so too its cousin crafty, suggesting not only an appreciation of close-work, fine-making, handwrought artistry,
Nights On Planet Earth
Gravel paths on hillsides amid moon-drawn vineyards, click of pearls upon a polished nightstand soft as rainwater, self-minded stars, oboe music distant as the grinding of icebergs against the hull
The Prose Poem
On the map it is precise and rectilinear as a chessboard, though driving past you would hardly notice it, this boundary line or ragged margin, a shallow swale that cups a simple trickle of water, less rill than rivulet, more gully than dell
The Human Heart
We construct it from tin and ambergris and clay, ochre, graph paper, a funnel of ghosts, whirlpool in a downspout full of midsummer rain.
Shopping For Pomegranates At Wal-Mart On...
Beneath a ten-foot-tall apparition of Frosty the Snowman with his corncob pipe and jovial, over-eager, button-black eyes, holding, in my palm, the leathery, wine-colored purse
Joseph Brodsky In Venice (1981)
La Serenissima, in morning light, is beautiful. But you already knew that.
The kingdom of perception is pure emptiness Po Chü-i 1 I have faltered in my appointed duty. It is a small sacrilege, a minor heresy. The nature of the duty is close attention to the ivy and its tracery on riled brick, the buckled sidewalk, the optimistic fern, downed lilacs brown as coffee grounds, little twirled seedwings falling by the thousands from the maples in May wind, and the leaves themselves daily greener in ripening sunlight. To whom is their offering rendered, and from whom derived, these fallen things urging their bodies upon the pavement? There is a true name for them, a proper term, but what is it? 2 All day I was admonished to admire the beauty of this single peony but only now, in late starlight, do I crush its petals to my face. Elemental silk dimmed to ash, reddening already to the brushstroke of dawn, its fragrance is a tendril connecting my mind to the rain, a root, a tap, a tether. Casting about, lachrymose, branches of the trees at first light flush with upthrust flowers like white candles in blackened sconces. Such is the form of the duty, but which is its officer, the world or the senses? The many languages of birds now, refusing to reconcile, and clouds streaming out of the darkness like ants to the day's bound blossom.
Bouncing along like a punch-drunk bell, its Provençal shoes too tight for English feet, the villanelle is a form from hell. Balletic as a tapir, strong as a gazelle, strict rhyme and formal meter keep a beat as tiresome as a punch-drunk bell- hop talking hip hop at the IHOP—no substitutions on menu items, no fries with the chimichanga, no extra syrup—what the hell was that? Where did my rhyme go—uh, compel— almost missed it again, damn, can you feel the heat coming off this sucker? Red hot! Ding! (Sound of a bell.) Hey, do I look like a bellhop to you, like an el- evator operator, like a trained monkey or a parakeet singing in my cage? Get the hell out of the Poetry Hotel! defeat mesquite tis mete repeat Bouncing along like a punch-drunk bell, the villanelle is a form from—Write it!—hell.
Charlie Parker (1950)
Bird is building a metropolis with his horn. Here are the gates of Babylon, the walls of Jericho cast down. Might die in Chicago, Kansas City's where I was born. Snowflake in a blizzard, purple rose before the thorn. Stone by stone, note by note, atom by atom, noun by noun, Bird is building a metropolis with his horn. Uptown, downtown, following the river to its source, Savoy, Three Deuces, Cotton Club, Lenox Lounge. Might just die in Harlem, Kansas City's where I was born. Bird is an abacus of possibility, Bird is riding the horse of habit and augmented sevenths. King without a crown, Bird is building a metropolis with his horn. Bred to the labor of it, built to claw an eye from the storm, made for the lowdown, the countdown, the breakdown. Might die in Los Angeles, Kansas City's where I was born. Bridge by bridge, solo by solo, set by set, chord by chord, woodshed to penthouse, blue to black to brown, Charlie Parker is building a metropolis with his horn. Might just die in Birdland, Kansas City's where I was born.
Another year is coming to an end but my old t-shirts will not be back— the pea-green one from Trinity College, gunked with streaks of lawnmower grease, the one with orange bat wings from Diamond Cavern, Kentucky, vanished without a trace. After a two-day storm I wander the beach admiring the ocean's lack of attachment. I huddle beneath a seashell, lonely as an exile. My sadness is the sadness of water fountains. My sadness is as ordinary as these gulls importuning for Cheetos or scraps of peanut butter sandwiches. Feed them a single crust and they will never leave you alone.
Green and blue and white, it is a flag for Florida stitched by hungry ibises. It is a paradise of flocks, a cornucopia of wind and grass and dark, slow waters. Turtles bask in the last tatters of afternoon, frogs perfect their symphony at dusk— in its solitude we remember ourselves, dimly, as creatures of mud and starlight. Clouds and savannahs and horizons, its emptiness is an antidote, its ink illuminates the manuscript of the heart. It is not ours though it is ours to destroy or preserve, this the kingdom of otter, kingfisher, alligator, heron. If the sacred is a river within us, let it flow like this, serene and magnificent, forever.
Releasing the Sherpas
The last two sherpas were the strongest, faithful companions, their faces wind-peeled, streaked with soot and glacier-light on the snowfield below the summit where we stopped to rest. The first was my body, snug in its cap of lynx- fur, smelling of yak butter and fine mineral dirt, agile, impetuous, broad-shouldered, alive to the frozen bite of oxygen in the larynx. The second was my intellect, dour and thirsty, furrowing its fox-like brow, my calculating brain searching for some cairn or chasm to explain my decision to send them back without me. Looking down from the next, ax-cleft serac I saw them turn and dwindle and felt unafraid. Blind as a diamond, sun-pure and rarefied, whatever I was then, there was no turning back.
If Socrates drank his portion of hemlock willingly, if the Appalachians have endured unending ages of erosion, if the wind can learn to read our minds and moonlight moonlight as a master pickpocket, surely we can contend with contentment as our commission. Deer in a stubble field, small birds dreaming unimaginable dreams in hollow trees, even the icicles, darling, even the icicles shame us with their stoicism, their radiant resolve. Listen to me now: think of something you love but not too dearly, so the night will steal from us only what we can afford to lose.
Nights On Planet Earth
Heaven was originally precisely that: the starry sky, dating back to the earliest Egyptian texts, which include magic spells that enable the soul to be sewn in the body of the great mother, Nut, literally 'night,' like the seed of a plant, which is also a jewel and a star. The Greek Elysian fields derive from the same celestial topography: the Egyp