In his fourth collection, The Cataracts, Raymond McDaniel’s poems examine the larger relationship we have with objective truth and purpose, while also showcasing
personal narratives that provide the reader a refreshing and unique outlook. The poems inquire into what is not seen as much as they explore what is seen. The idea of exploring the world through different perspectives is best illustrated in the title poem, “Cataracts.” In the poem, the speaker’s friend isn’t able to explain their cataracts by using words, instead they “cut out a pair of lenses from some draftsman’s opaque sheet” and place them over the speaker’s glasses. After seeing this, the speaker is transformed, no longer afraid for their friend’s surgery.
However, the collection does not always present its assertions so neatly. Often, poems leave the reader disoriented, and with questions that are never fully answered. This is perhaps best illustrated in the first poem in the collection, “Projection Box,” which begins with a description of a sparse bedroom: mattress on the floor, light shining in from the window, moonlight reflecting in the mirror. The poem then moves into inventing new meanings about light:
Light is not light.
Light is only one way things radiate,
so light is an object falling apart.
The light of the moon
is the light of the sun,
which is the sun collapsing.
So the moonlight was not of the moon,
nor was the mirror of the moon
And, by the end of the poem, the reader is presented the question: “Do you know where you are / if you know that wherever you are, / you are lost?” Guiding the reader through inquiry and exploration is, perhaps, the most essential aspect of the poems in this collection.
The Cataracts consistently surprises its reader through the speaker’s shifting perspectives, and its reassessment of what is seen and how it is actually perceived. It is a collection that will be enjoyable to a poetry reader who is interested in poems that are surreal, spiritual, and, especially, metaphysical. Though, in my opinion, it is a collection that all poetry lovers will want to add to their reading list, immediately.–Drew Cannedy