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James McMichael


On July 19, 1939, James McMichael was born in Pasadena, California and received his Ph.D. at Stanford University. He is the author of several poetry collections, including If You Can Tell: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016); Capacity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006), a finalist for the 2006 National Book Award in Poetry; and The World at Large: New and Selected Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1996).

About his book-length poem, Four Good Things (Mariner Books, 1980), Robert Pinsky wrote: "One of the great American poems. Beautiful and profound, its subject is the modern conundrum of the human ability to plan, invent and construct, and the stifling, destructive consequences."

McMichael was the 2007 recipient of the Academy of American Poets Fellowship. His other honors include a Eunice Tietjens Memorial Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Whiting Foundation Writer's Award, the Arthur O. Rense Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and the Shelley Memorial Prize from the Poetry Society of America.

The poet C.K. Williams has said: "James McMichael has for many years been one of our most innovative poets, with a broad thematic range, and a passionate commitment to the truths of life and art. His poems are at once as capacious as novels, formally inventive, and emotionally profound." He is professor of English and comparative literature at the University of California at Irvine.

Selected Bibliography

The Lover's Familiar (David R. Godine, 1978)
Four Good Things (Mariner Books, 1980)
Each in a Place Apart (University of Chicago Press, 1994)
The World at Large: New and Selected Poems (University of Chicago Press, 1996)
Capacity (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
If You Can Tell: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)

By This Poet



            That as all parts of it
agree in their low resistence to flow,

so should it be agreed to call it water.
To say of water that if floods both
forward and back through places
difficult to place demands that the ensouled

themselves make plates for their parts of speech,
the predicates arrayed in
front of or behind the stated subject—

water, in the case at hand. Water

attains to its names because it shows as one thing
speech is about.
It shows as water.
To say no
more than that about however broad a sea is

plural already,
it says there must be something

else somewhere,
some second thing at least, or why say
how the thing shows? Before it can be taken
as a thing, as sea,
there have to have been readied for it other
possible-if-then-denied pronouncements—land,
the sky. Possible that
somewhere in the midst of waters there could

be such things as might be walked on,

hornblende and
felsite, quartzite, remnant
raised beach platforms, shales,
a cliff-foot scree.

Until given back accountably as
extant and encountered,
nothing counts. Nothing counts until
by reason it is brought to stand still.
Country. That it stands over

against one stands to reason. Not without
reason is it said of country that it
counters one's feet. To Count as

groundwork for a claim about the ground,

reason must equate with country.
To be claimed as that, as country,
sand blown inland from the dunes must
equal its having landed grain by grain.

All grains have their whereabouts.
From emplacements in their clumps of
marram grass and sedges, some will be
aloft again and lime-rich
grain by grain will land.

Country is its mix of goings-on.
For these to tally, befores from
afters must at every turn divide.
Before it turns,
a cartwheel has its place to start from. It

stands there in place. In place an
axle's width away, another

parallel wheel is standing.
Not for long.
After each wheel in concert leaves its
first place for a second,

it leaves again at once a third and more. No more nor

fewer are its places on the strand than it has
time for in its turning.
one at a time,
these places are the lines the cart

makes longer at each landward place.
Not late for what goes

on there as its heft at each next place bears
down onto the loams and breaks them,
the seaweed-laden
cart is in time. Time is the cart's

enclosure. There for the taking, time is
around the cart,
which takes it from inside. Around
stones in the dry-stone dyke are

times out of mind,
those times the stones' embeddings let them go.
The hill-grazings
also are in time, and the three cows.
The blacklands are in time with their

ridged and dressed short rows of barley.
As it does around

bursts that for the places burst upon
abandon where they were before,
time holds around

the moving and the resting things.