MacInnes, who presently makes her home in England, has also lived in Berlin and the US. In an autobiographical essay, “Why Poetry,” included here, she recounts some family history and her experiences of being a married woman, mother, and writer whose literary aspirations had for some time been subordinated to her duties to her family. Eventually she climbed “out of the bog” with a poem called “I Object, Said the Object” and got back to work. MacInnes’s writing is edgy, skillful, and often dazzling in its turns of thought and phrase. A fallow deer that looks “through the clear glass of the woods, as if all were illusion” is, like the person watching it, “a witness in opposition, / one who did not subscribe to the régime we’ve grown up in.” In “Hard Lives,” several roe deer leap in front of the car one foggy night and bound off like “bolt after bolt of silk tossed to the floor,” and not until days later does the significance of the scene hit home: that the deer had been “so famished / they’d fed with the farmer’s sheep, so vulnerable they fled / at the crunch of the car; and more, the world we despised / was open for them to take refuge in / as it wasn’t for us, who weren’t secretive, or starving.”
Reflecting on the craft of poetry, MacInnes writes, “when a poem appears to work, even in my intolerably rough and ready approximations, there’s a sublime moment in which all comes together and sheds light.” Many of these poems do just that.