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Cassidy McFadzean, Hacker Packer
Toronto: McClelland & Stewart, 2015.

The way I see it there is no such thing as fixed identity. We are not quantifiable, but are works-in-progress for as long as we exist. A collection of poems similarly is not a whole in itself. It is a marker on the progression of its author and of the artistic climate at large. To read Cassidy McFadzean’s debut collection is to peer into the processes of a gifted poet as she gathers her forces.

The poems in Hacker Packer are characterized by enthusiasm and discovery. She plays with the imagery of Hieronymous Bosch where “Couples glide in buoyant spheres on a lagoon” and “nude knights ride in a procession alongside swine and ass.” She dances in the poetic presence of Ovid and Justin Bieber with the same revelry she devotes to the written word at large.

Play is everything in this collection. It swings with gusto through extensive subject matter. These poems are joy, indulgence. They exercise the power of the written word to take a thing and turn it, topsy-turvy-wise towards something altogether new. In “Battledore” a pun moves through a game of tennis as “The plastic flies like feathers. Swivel / and it swoops. That’s how birds soar, / singing. We swing our rackets, whoosh – / beaks gone noisy in their roosts.” In “On Defeat in the Siegesalle” punning rears its head again in more allusive content:

colonnades of trees frame bronze statues,
Prussian aristocrats’ creations. They’re greened
from oxidization, or envy of the Siegesallee’s
leaf canopies.

These poems are peacock-like displays of accomplished craft and intellect. They show enthusiasm for the contemporary Canadian poets who inhabit this kingdom of McFadzean’s, where embellishments and grandiose spectacles take the forefront, sometimes shadowing the meat and guts of the poem, though always delighting.

If the final poem in the collection is any indication of the trajectory of McFadzean’s career we can count on that sturdy foundation. Here she reigns in her knack for tight formal play to explore the relationship between root and sky, body and limb, substance and decoration. William Carlos Williams is turned over and reworked where rootedness relates to change:

Everything depends upon me and you.
The old wheelbarrow’s been painted blue.
We reach out of Earth’s soil mounds,
feel the sky looming over our hands.

Real curiosity not just danced with, but thoughtfully explored. I look forward to following the career of McFadzean as she claims her place between soil and sky.

 

Robin Richardson is the author of two books of poetry including Knife Throwing Through Self-Hypnosis, published by ECW Press. Her work has been shortlisted for the Walrus Poetry Prize, CBC Poetry Award, Lemon Hound Poetry Prize, and ReLit Award and has won the John B. Santoianni Award and the Joan T. Baldwin Award.?Her work has appeared in many journals including Tin House, Arc, The North American Review and Hazlitt of Random House. She holds an MFA in poetry from Sarah Lawrence College and resides in Toronto. Robin’s latest collection, Sit How You Want is forthcoming with Signal Poetry. ?

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