The University of Iowa

Book Review: Shane McCrae's Mule

 “... And Lord the sound of their wings / is the sound of the leaves...”

—Shane McCrae, from “Crows,”Mule



is by admitting
or opening away.
This is the simplest form
of current [...]
The way things work
is by solution,
resistance lessened or
increased and taken
advantage of.
The way things work
is that finally we believe
they are there,
common and able
to illustrate themselves.
Wheel, kinetic flow,
rising and falling water [...]
[...] I believe
forever in the hooks.
The way things work
is that eventually
something catches.

—Jorie Graham, from “The Way Things Work,” Hybrids of Plants and of Ghosts

Jorie Graham has made a career out of the hooks found by kinetic flow—the “something [that] catches” the lyrical current flowing through the mind of the poet. Work is made by resistance, and it is the subject who resists. Eventually, when Graham sets herself upon the current of poetic lyric, “something catches,” which interruption is the site of the subject. In other words, where the insistence of the lyric stops is where we find, in Oppen’s terms, “the lyric valuables.”

In Mule by Shane McCrae, an erstwhile student of Graham’s, one finds a similar lyrical project:

... and we stood in the water

We held our arms above our heads for for-

ty days supported by the water and

Weighed down by the water     and we didn’t drink

For fear that we would leave ourselves no water

To stand in     and we didn’t piss     for fear that

We would pollute the water and have no

Water to drink stood     forty days in the pond

Nothing was left     of the garden but the pond...

In Mule, however, the anxiety of marring his lyrical fluency induces a kind of iambic insistence, or trance. McCrae fears the "hooks," as the subject of the above poem (“In the Garden of the Ghosts of the Garden”) fears marring or polluting the current in which he stands, precisely because he knows the current’s interruption bespeaks the subject’s gross materiality. This is the dialectic that informs the book—the anxiety of "mule"-ness navigating the lyrical sublimity that utters it. Read more...