When political poetry succeeds, it usually does so through a broadly announced theme. McCarriston’s clearly feminist third collection, a rich amalgam of new work and a glorious smattering of poems from previous award-winning volumes, works in a more delicate fashion: through imagery. This Massachusetts poet, who holds dual Irish/US citizenship, takes the time to consider the position of things, developing countless evocative scenes detailing the over, under, and through of living. Her lines of varied length come across in a conversational prose style that is disarming in its familiarity. She moves from the calm of a twilight horseback ride to the sexually charged arena of a writing workshop with consistent descriptive grace, and while the merits and hazards of personal autonomy resound in poem after poem, the message is never heavy-handed—rather, it is the setting that conveys it that lingers. The collection’s most powerful example is “Le Coursier de Jeanne D’Arc,” where the emphasis shifts from Joan at the stake to the deliberate burning of her horse (“the body she knew / better than the flesh of any man, any child, / or woman”), the penultimate torture designed to make her recant. A less dramatic but equally moving moment comes later in the form of a scullery maid’s lament, “Ask me to write about peeling as I scald, / about scalding as I peel. / I have no song.” McCarriston’s poetic gifts are many, the layered inversion of meaning ranking high among them.
Provocative, finely wrought poems packing thematic punch with rare imagistic beauty.