by Sadie McCarney
Published by University of Regina Press
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$19.95 ISBN 9-780889-776500
I’ve reviewed hundreds of books over the decades, and have developed a kind of ritual before I read a single word of the text proper. Today Charlottetown poet Sadie McCarney’s first book, Live Ones, is under inspection.
A book is a reverent thing. Firstly, I turn it in my hands, and study the front and back covers. McCarney’s slim cream-coloured volume is adorned with a small purple graphic, Winged Skull / Memento Mori, by artist Susan Crawford. What does this image suggest about the poems? There will be sorrow – quite possibly death – addressed within these pages. I flip to the back, read the publisher’s blurb, any other blurbs (usually provided by accomplished writers), and biographical notes about the author. Here I learn that McCarney’s book “grapples with mourning, coming of age, and queer identity against the backdrop of rural and small-town Atlantic Canada.” First books often cast a wide net.
Next I check the author’s birth year (just curious), if available; her Acknowledgments (where these poems previously appeared – impressive); and finally, I scan the individual titles in the Contents. Titles interest me. They can provide insight into general themes, style, and mood. Three titles leap out: “Answer and Be Entered to Win,” (first poem); “$90K Victorian, Sold As Is;” and “Fairy Tale in the Supermarket.” But I don’t leap to these pages: writers and editors specifically order the poems, and I respect that they should be read as presented.
The opening poem is a “found poem culled from dating site questionnaires,” and it’s a lark in couplets. Each line asks a ridiculous question, ie: “Do you ever/
masturbate to spelling mistakes?” and “In the right light, wouldn’t primates be/sexy?” I expect that this (hopefully) hyperbolic take on online dating questionnaires is making a statement on modern day relationships, and the title, “Answer and Be Entered to Win,” comments on the gamble – and ridiculousness – inherent in online dating. It’s a fun piece.
“Early Adopters,” imagines female partners queueing for a baby at a “Black Friday sale,” after “the once-fertile town’s life-sap/dried up and took the yearly/births along with it.” Clever!
Some of the slice-of-life poems, like a cancer-riddled aunt’s trip to a beach with family, are the strongest: “By now her innards are carved up/by the cancer, metastasized every/way like the night’s last firework.” “Steeltown Songs,” is a longer poem about adolescence and growing up where “Sometimes we skipped our chalked-in court/our tire swing’s welt of spit-out gum”.
The book’s saturated with fabulous images, ie: “the shimmer of smashed beer bottles/like low-rent stardust,” “her hair a Celtic knot of grease” (from “$90K Victorian, Sold As Is”), and Costa Rican dogs who “luxuriated in their harems/of flies.” In “Fairy Tale in the Supermarket,” lobsters “wear rubber bands/as funeral corsages.”
Houses, families, small towns, youth, illness, “A teacup of ticks” and “A foundered rowboat full of rain.” The 1992-born author of these unflinching poems – varied in style and content – should be proud of her first book.
THIS BOOK IS AVAILABLE AT YOUR LOCAL BOOKSTORE OR FROM WWW.SKBOOKS.COM