WSJ: At the end of your poem "June 28" you quote Walt Whitman from "Specimen Days." In it, Whitman suggests that too much knowledge ruins one's enjoyment of nature. You agree?Mr. McGrath: I think he's being tongue in cheek. He's offering a defense for being slightly casual in one's knowledge. I was eager to take advantage of that defense to cover up the fact that my own knowledge is full of holes. Whitman was a pretty good naturalist; if somebody else said that you might think he was allowing everyone to be an idiot. But Whitman was a cataloguer, especially about Long Island. He knew you had to know things. I take his quote as liberty to recognize that there's a kind of precision that can lead poetry astray.
WSJ: What inspired "Ode to a Can of Schaefer Beer," a brew you at one point describe as "tasting of metal and crisp water?"Mr. McGrath: It was inspired by coming across a six pack of that beer. This beer was an icon in my childhood, and the TV commercials and jingles popped back in my head. It made me wonder: How is it that certain icons live and die, and what does it mean? That's what the poem riffs on. Their ridiculous slogan -- the one beer to have when you are having more than one - - is totally inappropriate now, so it makes you think of the good old days. The culture stays alive, but certain parts of it die or fail, and that's very interesting to me.