How thoroughly I enjoyed reading these terrific poems in ‘Gynaecologist in the Jacuzzi’, Marie Cadden’s debut collection with Salmon Poetry.
From the savvy, opening salvo of Mammogram, Marie sets a clear-eyed, simultaneously serious and seriously funny tone. These are deftly executed poems that flow forward, wonderfully propelled by rhyme, reason and language and her own spirited voice, at once warm and acerbic, wise and wise-cracking.
The poems that follow on from the first section called ‘Glands’, those in ‘Blood’ and in ‘Bones’, have fully earned their spot-on elegiac wistfulness and are thrown into further relief by what preceded them. I loved the seasonal intimacies of the fourth grouping of poems ‘Flesh’, especially the story of Marie’s ear piercing. Then the unabashed sadness and finality, the sheer loveliness and prayer in the final benediction of many of the poems that comprise ‘Skin’. (The book read like the varied movements of a symphony, with Marie as conductor, in full control of every note and nuance.)
In other words, these poems kick-ass, pull no punches. Then lay gentle hands on the past and present. They offer range, beauty and are often incandescent, whether in full fire or turning over the quiet glow of embers: from the bumblebee in the wood pile to Marie’s memories of her parents to the various embodiments from child awaiting buttermilk hands to May Queen to middle-aged woman to the gynaecologist arising dripping, the very antithesis of Venus.
I know that I will turn to these poems again and again in the years to come for their wit and resonance and celebration of being who we are at any age and the glory of that and the courage it takes to own this in an age that insists otherwise. Marie knows better and affirms it beautifully. So should we all.
Here is a surefooted, enviable collection of often brilliant poems. There are no false moments, no stumbles, only pure and accomplished craft. My poetic hat is off to Marie Cadden for this collection: a low and sweeping bow.
Katherine Lucas Anderson, Author of: Greek Revival (Olive Branch Press, Ithaca, NY chapbook, limited edition, 2006) and From the Finger Lakes: A Poetry Anthology, 2016. (“Rush”)
A STRIKING feature of Marie Cadden’s debut poetry collection - Gynaecologist in the Jacuzzi
– is that the voice speaking to us in the more than 50 poems included is, for a first collection, a peculiarly unified one.
There is no sense of an apprentice poet trying on hats, and not yet having quite found the one she’ll end up wearing. Cadden arrives as a poet fully formed, and making no apologies at all.
This collection, finely presented by Salmon Poetry and with an exquisite cover image by Cadden's daughter Ruth – opens with ‘Mammogram’, a wince inducing, light satirical, masterpiece: “If men/were to lay their testicles/one at a time/on a metal plate…//if men had breasts/they’d have found a better way.” If you have any interest in either breasts or testicles – and, let’s face it, we have each of us been possessed by one or the other – buy this book and read ‘Mammogram’ in full.
Every time I’ve seen Marie Cadden recite it at a reading, all the women in the room laugh and the men – including apparently me – begin rather indiscreetly crossing their legs.
It gets worse for all those closet misogynists who think there are certain things one just doesn’t mention, even in impolite company, and that women poets should write about buttercups and kittens and Celtic crosses and the like.
In ‘Makeover’ the woman who “looks fifty-fifty?/She IS fifty-five!” is shown the error of her ways by the somewhat psychopathic narrator: “Doesn’t know what WE know – /that today’s Granny stays juicy til eighty!//o we’ll oil her fanny, peel her years/cut and bin them…"
‘Wax’ takes the reader into altogether darker territory: “Come in for a Brazilian. We’ll reveal/the little girl beneath your bush...Four weeks to regrowth, four weeks/with naked pre-pubescent lips/to tease the paedophile in your guy, eh?” There are also two witty poems about incontinence, including ‘Long Trousers’, about the man “behind the shiny big-man desk,/that brassy name plaque” who lives in terminal fear of being found out: “that even yet/he might be caught out/with a poo in his pants.”
Yet Gynaecologist in the Jacuzzi
is not what the League of Decency would have called “filth”. Cadden also writes succinctly about cows, strawberries, white wine, and (especially ) things one can do in a hammock during a meteor shower.
Of course the League of Decency would consider some of those poems filth with the air of gentle decadence which pervades Cadden’s work. Particularly startling is ‘Intimates’, in which she writes of the sisters who used to pop each other’s spots but now “draw blood with words,/needle to provoke a response of any old kind,/scratch for a gush of passion, anger, anything,/but the dribbling watery seepage of indifference.”
LAUNCH INTRODUCTION by Lorna Shaughnessy at the launch of Gynaecologist in the Jacuzzi, Il Vicolo, The Bridge Mills, Galway - 21st May, 2016
I’ve been a fan of Marie Cadden’s work since we sat around the big table together in Kevin Higgins’ Thursday workshops in the Arts’ Centre. But it wasn’t poetry that brought us together. Not many people know this, but we got to know each other through tango. We were part of a small group of romantic souls who took the first tango classes in Galway. I only mention this to stress Marie’s extraordinary versatility and the range of her talents – all of which are in evidence in this collection. She never misses a beat or a step as she glides from outrageously funny to thoughtful reflexion, in poems that are provocative, political (with big Ps and small) and profound; and she often manages to combine all these elements in one poem. The range of tone here is perfectly captured by Ruth Cadden’s cover image: sensuous, effervescent, but also with a finer more ethereal character – however we wish to read that - whether as hope, the human spirit, or the imagination. I’d like to stay with the metaphor of Marie the dancer for another minute because it captures the way Marie the poet sees the world, and how she expresses that view of the world, and that is grounded very solidly in the body. This much is obvious from the five section headings that structure the book: Glands, Blood, Bones, Flesh, Skin. But it goes much further than this. I don’t think there’s a single poem in here that doesn’t refer to the human body or a bodily function. The whole book is a lesson in the importance of the physical senses in a good poem. Some darker examples are the slick professional with his shiny brass nameplate in the poem ‘Long Trousers’, who harbours the physical fear of a short-trousered boy, ‘that he might be caught out/ with a poo in his pants’; or the Monks of Buckfast Abbey who make money for charity on the back of ‘The Buckfast Code: blood and vomit’. But the body is present too in rich, metaphorical language: ‘The straw bosomed bed/ Daddy slept in as a child’; ‘memories juicing on the tongue’; ‘Giggle Incontinence’ or in the unexpected April sun that ‘unbuttons us to the pelt’. None of us can escape our bodies, the places we are born into, thrive in, survive in, and eventually die in. And all these processes are laid bare in Marie’s poems, with courage, humour and wisdom.
The first section, Glands, takes us into the body from all sorts of quirky and original perspectives: for women of a certain age, that could mean the ‘lonely panic’ of the Mammogram that Marie manages to make hilarious; or the constant pressures to disguise our age in the parodies ‘Makeover’ and ‘Wax’. And then there’s Double-Take, where she looks back at androgyny as we knew it in the 70s in the theatrical transgressions of Bowie, and contrasts it with the ‘Intersex models’ who ‘stalk up and down the catwalk/ in neutral, po-faced’. The second section, Blood, opens up some of the ‘untold, faded’ stories of Marie’s own family: her great grandfather looks out at her from a photograph taken in America, shortly before he was killed in an accident, before he could send home the passage money; her father’s mother looks for of ‘A Bit of Peace’ in a noisy kitchen; and there are poignant memories of her own mother, the small routines and memories that tied her to the place she called home; and the promise of new life in a great-grandchild. The third section ‘Bones’ also looks back on the excavated lives of parents and grandparents, and reflects on how their legacy lives on the in the ‘sparky flint’ that can ignite a poem: the mesmeric rhythms of remembered prayers; the touch and smell of her grandmother’s ‘buttermilk hands’; these are poems that ‘scratch the surface’ of the past ‘with broken nails for years’ ‘disclosing throaty intimacies/ but not the secrets of the dig’. Section Four, Flesh, we are seduced by the heat of sunny days in poems that pop like champagne, looking back on younger selves who lived and loved closer to the edge, and celebrating other kinds of miracles found in winter, like the queen bee ‘snatched from her cold coma/in a lump of peat/ thrown near the heat of the hearth.’ Finally, the honest nakedness of Skin in the last section, in poems that confront and embrace change, the processes of maturing, and the ability to live in the present: In Praise of Denial is a poem which, paradoxically, denies nothing:
howling forecast gagged -
Throughout the whole collection, as though to counterbalance the inescapable pull of gravity, the weight of the body, there are moments of real transcendence, like the elusive rainbow in Thin Air, or the bog cotton of Ceannabhán.
Like a fall of summer snow
across the bog,
drifts of wispy cotton heads
nod from sodden turf,
flights of silken fancy
enticing the reckless
to pluck if they dare.
Stuffing for a pillowcase,
sleep deep as bog cotton
snorkelling in the peat,
seeds of dreams drifting
over an ancient horizon.
These are poems that are perfectly grounded in the earth, but also inhabit the air; poems that have guts, balls and lots of soul. Keep dancing, Marie.