The early work of Cynthia Macdonald is sometimes described as too preoccupied with the grotesque and too flippant in tone. However, from the beginning, the poet was admired for her way with words. She has the narrative skill of a fine short-story writer, initially capturing the attention of her readers with a startling image or statement, then maintaining the suspense up to an ending that, though usually less than happy, is always interesting and often memorable.
As the title suggests, the poems in Macdonald’s first collection were almost uniformly grotesque. Most of them deal with literal amputations. Sometimes there is no explanation of the circumstances, as in “Inventory,” where the persona lists his father’s finger as one of the items that appears from time to time in his own ever-present suitcase.
Often, however, a first-person narrator explains in a matter-of-fact manner why the mutilation was not accidental, but necessary. Thus in “Departure,” a mother treats her son’s cutting off his feet as an inevitable stage in the process of becoming independent, while in “Objets d’Art,” it seems perfectly logical to the speaker that she should respond to a stranger’s calling her a “real ball cutter” by relieving as many men as possible of their testicles. These narrators not only treat the amputations as perfectly normal but also take pride in the care with which they treat their relics....
(The entire section is 1406 words.)
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