A poem is like a rocket: Either it achieves liftoff or it falls to the ground. And since contemporary poets have largely discarded the tools that have traditionally helped poems aloft—meter and rhyme—it’s not surprising that they rarely take flight.
Joshua Mehigan’s Accepting the Disaster is the rare new book of poetry that is entirely alive, entirely aloft. No allowances have to be made for these darkly lucid, sad, and humane poems; they are the thing itself. Robert Frost spoke of “the figure a poem makes,” and Mehigan’s poems do what the best poems of the past do: They make utterly individual “figures” out of sentence rhythm, metaphor, tone of voice, and point of view. Yet Mehigan’s individuality does not take the form of eccentricity or egotism. Instead, he achieves a kind of limpid, epigrammatic speech that, while retaining the inflections of his voice, creates the illusion—common to the best poetry—of a poem speaking itself. “Believe It,” a poem of eight lines, speaks about death with the kind of authority that cannot be assumed, only created by verbal precision:
Hard to believe that, after all of it,
in bed for good now, knowing you haven’t done
one thing of any lasting benefit
or grasped how to be happy, or had fun,
you must surrender everything and pass
into a new condition that is not
night, or a country, or sleep, or peace,
but nothing, ever, anymore, for you.