Monday, November 22, 2010

Sharon McCartney's For and Against

Since poetry is driven by emotion (despite a tradition of French and French-affiliated word-poseurs, both modern and postmodern), and since roughly 50% of married couples eventually divorce while a significant segment of the remaining duos live in quiet desperation, you’d think there’d be more books of poetry -- or at least more individual poems -- concentrating on that dark reality. Sharon McCartney, at least, doesn’t shy away from recording the diurnal drudgery, break-up, and aftermath of a twenty year marriage in this year’s For and Against. The autobiographical material would, at first pass, call to the danger, frequently succumbed to in confessional poetry, of hysterical egotism -- ‘me and my troubles‘. One element that saves this book from that charge is her concentration on fleshing out the “other”, and others, both in her remembered rounds and in deft literary and pop ruminations (Lady Chatterley, Anna Karenina, George Eliot’s narrative voice, Snow White, and The Wizard of Oz's Dorothy). But the main reason to disagree with those who may turn up their noses at the rough and tumble of a relationship dying in colours dramatic, somber and dull is the writing itself.

McCartney has shown a delightful felicity in previous books with stapling phrases into the memory. For and Against expands this strength with different material, and it’s a testament to her talent that rawness isn’t diminished by an attention to fluency: “lipping the languid/ sandbags staggered”; “Doc baffled, Bashful asserting himself,/Happy rabid.”.

Anger, disgust, depression (well, OK, that one gets plenty of play in many books), black humour, desperate longing, bitter denunciation: Canadians are much more comfortable in their reading and composing habits with the more muted dark emotions of regret, pensiveness, alienation and heightened self-pity. But McCartney is driven by a concern for connection and has little patience for the bogus compensations of "who needs it" pride or unearned hope. If the book is at times too unformed (“And leaving becoming/the only way to get anything back”), and hence, too driven to vague summation, it’s a small price to pay for the many more searching pieces of wise recrafting of disharmony.

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