Monthly Archives: April 2011

Micah Ling’s Sweetgrass in 200 Words

SweetgrassHaving raced through Micah Ling’s Sweetgrass (Sunnyoutside, 2010) twice, I’m perplexed. Not by the material, which is sweet and, as is grass, light and easy, but by genre and intentions. While the short book expresses an honest affection for her Western encounters, and while a few pages demonstrate creative verve–the poem beginning “Listen: this is a stick up” is the best stand-alone lyric–on the whole, these untitled bits produce an unstructured essay. As it turns out, Sweetgrass is a dude ranch in Montana, so one might even wonder if the book belongs to the what-I-did-on-my-summer-vacation genre. The voice of the book is that of a tourist, not of one who shares a deep knowledge of her subject, nor of one who has any real or lasting allegiances to the place. As readers we are pulled into a kind of voyeurism—uncomfortably, we watch someone we do not know have a really good time in Montana. Ling and her hosts seem like truly nice people, but what’s missing from the book is the work. Not the romanticized work of the cattle ranch, but the work of hosting its gawking visitors. Being under the gaze itself must be a chore.

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