Joshua Mehigan

FSG, 2014

Few younger poets writing today have as keen an ear for metrics as Joshua Mehigan. However, one should be wary of taxonomizing Mehigan solely on the basis of his considerable formal talents—on being called a New Formalist, Mehigan has written: “You have to be severely parochial—parochial in space and time—to think meter is marginal enough to poetry to call its proponents by a special name.” Even so, Mehigan’s artful sonic architecture in his pieces was the most salient feature of his solid debut collection, The Optimist (2004). For its dexterity with form and meter, the book announced a significant new voice in contemporary poetics. A side effect of this, though, was that the poems could, at times, nudge up against the edges of frivolity—the acrobat demonstrating his feats of agility back and forth and back and forth.

However, in his new collection Accepting the Disaster, Mehigan has upped the ante—his attention to rhyme and meter is as fluid and seemingly effortless as ever (though given the ten-year gap between collections, one might presume this more a feat of painstaking craftsmanship than of some inspired outpour) but here, we see his scope widening. His first collection dealt largely with individuals, with particular characters whose collective experiences formed a sort of anxious ecosystem. This new book widens its scope, focusing on communities and populations instead of individuals, and examining the collective urban biomes that “gave them jobs, and killed some of them.” Here we have workers killing themselves to eat, schoolchildren swallowing poison, and mental patients on the verge of breakdown, societies all tethered to the thrust of a tonal arc that climaxes in the book’s titular poem, a magnificent, unnervingly sprightly bit of apocalyptica, featuring some of Mehigan’s most fascinating formal wizardry: “And the temples burned with heartfelt pointless promises // and people still swore by their household gods and goddesses.” Here, as elsewhere in the book, the language serves to root and scaffold the content, not simply adorn it. The poems in Accepting the Disaster feel important because they are — it’s a brilliant, mature collection. We find Mehigan coming to a dazzling balance between hard-earned technical virtuosity and a sincere desire to explore, in verse, “our life, this passing unendurable fever, / a world of pain, a glint of joy.”