BARBARISM by Molly McQuade


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It is always surprising and frustrating when someone who turns out sprightly and polished prose publishes a book of verse that is something less. On the strength of her collection of essays (Stealing Glimpses, 1999), one would expect former Kirkus contributing editor McQuade to be a sensitive and deft poet. Regrettably, her first collection is murky and, if anything, over sensitive. Virtually all of the 42 poems here are reveries of nature, idealized in ways that contradict the collection’s title (which one must assume is meant ironically, although it is hard to tell from reading the poem that bears that name). This book is an example of the pathetic fallacy run riot, at its most hilariously excessive when McQuade suggests the breathless sexual awakening of a delphinium. The versifying is arch, clotted with alliteration for its own sake and riddled with quickly tiresome tricks of shifting parts of speech. There are scattered effective moments, usually when the mad flutterings of the imagery quiet down into a certain stately coherence, or when a rare flash of wit can be found. Occasionally, an image will burst out fresh (“a pelican sagging with spent flight”), but these are the exception rather than the rule. Most of the time, one feels that she has chosen her natural subjects for the mellifluousness of their names, rather than for any actual content.

As a result, there isn’t a single poem in the collection that works from start to finish. Instead, what we get is a sort of educated Hopkinsesque greeting card verse, humorless and a trifle fatuous.

Pub Date: May 15th, 2000
ISBN: 1-884800-27-0
Page count: 71pp
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 2000