The jacket has photographic background, though the photo has been photoshopped. The background is a wood-type worksurface, pale brown and grained. To the left we see about half of a half-pomegranate, with the seeds in juice that is very dark. A large blood red puddle is photoshopped to come out of the fruit and it fills most of the bottom right hand corner. All text is right justified with the red puddle as its background, and the text is white small caps with large caps for first letter. First the title. Then 'Poetry by Maeve McKenna'. To the left is the publisher's logo in a small circle: it is the nib of a pen).

A Dedication to Drowning, Maeve McKenna

Fly on the Wall Press, 2022      £6.99

The womb as wolf

We’re immediately invited to drown in blood in Maeve McKenna’s collection. On the cover, the title huddles in a red pool from a pomegranate. I showed it to a cook, and she affirmed my view that this pomegranate is unhealthy — too dark, on the verge of rotting, its seeds looking more like teeth than pomegranate seeds.

Even before reading the first poem then, we anticipate un-health, death, a warped view of fertility (the cross-cultural signification of a pomegranate), and a diseased womb. As we read on through the publication, death and fertility remain the prevalent themes. The opening line, ‘Your son is trying to kill you,’ exemplifies this.

The womb, like the pomegranate on the cover, slices open. In ‘Fertile,’ the poem states ‘I am the womb behind the wolf’s ribcage’. Womb or stomach?

Hunger threads through the pamphlet, often paired with sexual pleasure. Both are acts of consumption. ‘My Mother said if you have eggs / in the fridge, you have a meal. / She had five children’ (‘A Meal for One’). Eggs are children broken, scrambled, devoured.

Motherhood and inheritance are problematic. Instead of the offspring of the wolf growing to its own power in ‘Fertile’, the cub is drowned: ‘on the river floor, a cub, limp / beneath stones in a plastic shopping bag’. The ‘cub’ is a discarded child. The child is a possession.

In ‘Mute Marriage’ the speaker vows, ‘I couldn’t bear / to lose his life’. Not the son losing his own life. She losing his, losing it. In ‘Cat Mirror’, too, the image of the mother troubles, and thus there’s a troubled inheritance, a confusion of life-sized mirrors, no real self.

In the adjoining poem, ‘Waking in November,’ this inheritance is named: ‘an inheritance of empty vodka bottles / and your favourite faux-fur coat.’ Look back to the mother and child in ‘Cat Mirror’ — the kids ‘crawled about, watching our bodies / be other animals; all rickety bone, matted hair’ and again McKenna evokes the wolf-womb from ‘Fertile’.

This is not a comfortable read. It requires dedication and courage; an acceptance of uneasy resolution at best. But it repays the effort.

Jennifer A. McGowan