Capacity, the extraordinary new collection from the award-winning poet James McMichael, deliberates an earth that supplies what people need to live. Ocean, land, animate bodies, shelter, thoughts, feelings, talk, sex--each is addressed at the pace of someone dense with wonder's resistance to take for granted even the smallest or most obvious parts of existence.
Capacity is a 2006 National Book Award Finalist for Poetry.
McMichael's calm, smart verse essays and poetic narratives attracted critical acclaim, if never a broad following, during the 1980s; his sixth book (the first since 1996's The World at Large: New and Selected) pursues its intellectual ambition with renewed attention and verve, and comprises just seven poems. The lead poem, "The British Countryside in Pictures," provides a frame for the whole, placing the story of Britain's evacuee children (sent from cities to farmland during the Blitz) within contexts from economic history and geology to the beginnings of one child's life. From details and antecedents within this story (perhaps, though McMichael does not specify, the story of his own family) derive the other topics here: the horrors of the Irish potato famine; reproductive science; how we make judgments; how we become ourselves amid the overlapping determinants of social class, locale, memory, biology. "Capacity is both how/ much a thing holds and how/ much it can do," McMichael explains in the title poem, and his work proves capacious in both respects.