I’m not going to start off with a disclaimer that Jack McCarthy is one of my favorite poets and one of my favorite people. I’m not going to say how eagerly I offered to write about his new book. Nope. Just going to start right in and tell you about it.
The book is called “What I Saw,” and that in itself foreshadows its pleasures and its wisdom: what Jack sees is what lies beneath the details of daily life. Give him a chipmunk darting in front of his car and he sees the urges that have us all in their thrall. Give him a box of non-winning raffle tickets and he sees a benediction for a bridal couple’s future.
He’s not seeing miracles, mind you. In the poem, “What I Saw on My Walk,” he lets you know right away that he saw no bears or cougars, hawks or eagles. No major celebrities of the wild, in other words. But a coyote and a deer looked him in the eye, a rabbit melded into a prayer, and an old woman with an old dog led him to a vision of what the world is. He sees no more than what most of us see, really, but what he does with the noticing is his gift to us.
I’ve often thought that Jack’s poems look like him in a way--long and lean and loose-limbed, with a tendency to amble comfortably and then zero in unerringly. I’d like to quote a few lines from one of the poems to give you a small taste, but that ambling conversational style with its detours and roundabouts doesn’t make it easy. He doesn’t go straight for the easy linear narrative. Take some random lines out of context and they just don’t give you the whole picture of, say, glimpsing a copy of Poetry magazine in the corner of Hannibal Lecter’s cell or taking his small daughters hiking. Can’t do it. Sorry. You just have to get the book.