Where Once

Sally McNall

It’s obvious from this new book of poems that local poet and Chico State faculty member Sally McNall is both well-read and well-traveled. From her early nod to William Butler Yeats in “Goodbye to Byzantium”; to references to English Romantic poets William Wordsworth and John Keats, and American nature poets Walt Whitman and Mary Oliver; to her many references to places around the world—Istanbul, Vienna, Beijing, Germany’s Niedersachsen, the oil fields of Texas—McNall writes with an expansive scope. “These poems try to find a way in this difficult century,” she explains in a press release for the book. “They deal with troubling local events and images, such as the fires of 2008, to the oil rigs in the North Sea, and the advancing Sahara.” She adds: “It is also a book of love poems.” That said, it is McNall’s more intimate pieces that hit the reader with a clarity and an urgency that overshadow her more worldly work, as good as it is. “Interpretation” opens: “This morning I drowned myself/ knee deep in a warm ocean of fresh blood./ Our dreams are free of us, and ruthless,/ and even I cannot outtalk them.” And “Writing to you from Dresden”—written to her husband, Scott—is McNall at her most endearingly vulnerable.