Shane McCrae on Singing, and Singing With

H. L. Hix: Your book welcomes the cardinal at the beginning, and welcomes the crow near the end.  In between, there is a moment at which the speaker says “you / Will recognize yourself in the singing     you / Will not recognize yourself in the songs” (42).  Is this another manifestation of the wound that we are invited to welcome, that we recognize ourselves in singing, not in songs?  Is the speaker’s hesitant, recursive way of singing an invitation for us to sing along rather than to listen?


Shane McCrae: Well, a lot of the poems in the book are about a failing marriage—the first poem in the book, “The Cardinal Is the Marriage Bird,” is where it is, set off by itself and at the beginning of the book, because I wanted the marriage to cast a shadow over all the poems in the book, even the poems that aren’t about the marriage—but the book is titled after a relatively small group of poems about race, which are grouped together near the middle. I hoped all the poems in the book would have something to say to each other, and I organized them the way I did, and gave the book the title I gave it, because I wanted to get them talking.


I think, yes, I think it is very easy to get married, to have children, to make a career, to do any number of enormous things in such a way as to be singing, and to know that you are singing, but to not really hear the song. And your part in all of these things is singing, and part of a larger song; and much of the time, people—myself included, myself especially—I think people have trouble recognizing that the song is more important than the singer. The voices in the book—or the one voice, the speaker’s way of singing—sound the way they sound because I was trying to reproduce the singing I’ve done or heard in a way that would resonate with other people, and hopefully get them singing along. I wanted to say whatever I had to say with the reader, rather than at the reader.



Shane McCrae.  Mule.  Cleveland State University Poetry Center, 2011.


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