Antonia's Reviews > Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage

Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage by Leslie McGrath
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's review
Mar 05, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: read-in-2011
Read on March 05, 2011

This book is one of several that I bought at the Main Street Rag table at the recent AWP meeting. Very attractive volumes, which I'm sure influenced me.

There are some really good poems here and wonderful images. I really enjoyed the collection, though thought it was a little uneven. Food and flavors run through these poems -- "Hot Chocolate," "The Soda Bread," "Succotash," "Like Salt," "Butter Soothed Her." I especially like these foody poems that radiate such warmth. And I particularly like the poems with lots of concrete images (e.g. the food poems and "The Rules of Charity," which I thought was pretty brilliant). Some others are less concrete and, only occasionally, I just didn't get something. I didn't care much for the series of prose poems based on mid-century (20th) bulletins from nudist colonies. (Okay, that ought to pique your curiosity.)

But there is so much to enjoy! Some Sweetness ("The Soda Bread," "Hot Choolate"). Some sadness ("The Aspiring Bride" "For My Daughter on the Death of Her New Love"). Some good sex! ("Picnic," "Oooo Oooo"). Some humor ("How to Wolf a Cook"). Some wisdom ("Orphans," "This Mirror Mine").

Good images and sonics: "a rune of feathers" (at the edge of a pond), the image of a table being sanded "stands in a circle of dust like a horse being curried," the "soft galumph of butter into bowl,"

"Starlings rise, resettle
as a woman might arrange her skirt"

"I was left— fifty, thickening at the waist, sickened. . . ."

"Summer evening: the wind
a riffling finger
over the meadow's tawny spine."

A few excerpts:

"My soul's substance
would be measured by flavor.
I am all tongue —

I once miswrote
I must move on"

And, from "Self Portrait on a Milk Glass Cake Plate":

"I am the tempter
untying the knotted seasons
of hunger and surfeit.
In my roundness, power;
my scent vanilla—
vegetal, vulval.

[and the ending:]

"I am the cake.
I do not fear the knife."

I had a few quibbles, e.g., why all the semicolons? (I think they should be relegated to legal documents.) And any writer who cannot get lie and lay straight. . . . Sheesh! This really annoys me.

"too ardent / to lay on the tongue / or take up space"
[Rereading this review years later, it strikes me that I was wrong here. This must be a use of "lay" as in "laying on of hands." Maybe.]

The title of one poem is "Convolescences." Is there really such a word? The poem certainly seems to be about convalescence. The O just seems to jump out of the word at me. But it's spelled with an o in the Notes, too, so I wonder.

Or this, in the notes: "Once covered with houses, the Great Hurricane of 1938 demolished all the buildings." (Do you see a hurricane covered with houses?)

After 58 pages of poetry, page 59 appears in a larger font size. Oddly distracting. (Which seems to lend some extra weight or importance to the poem. We know this happens subliminally.)

pages 62-3: Poor layout. Should have started the poem on a recto, not verso (imho)

Notes on the poems at the back of the book: I've seen this in a few poetry volumes lately. I like reading the notes, but would have liked them at the bottom of their respective poems' pages.

Several poems can be found at Main Street Rag

Here are some other poems online:

"For My Daughter on the Death of Her New Love" (This one is accompanied by McGrath's explanation of the genesis of the poem.)
"Ram's Horn and Citron, Tinder and Carillon"
Of Providence: A Racial History"

Several of her poems (text and author reading) are included at From the Fishouse.

Leslie McGrath's poems have been widely published in print and online. Winner of the 2004 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. Opulent Hunger, Opulent Rage was a finalist for the Connecticut Book Award and nominated for The Poet's Prize. managing editor of Drunken Boat an online journal of the arts. She won the 2004 Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry for some of the poems in this volume (that were published in Nimrod). McGrath is the Managing Editor of Drunken Boat.

I read online that McGrath spent four years of submitting continuously to poetry book contests and had placed as a finalist ten times before winning the Main Street Rag book contest. The book was published in 2009.

Final verdict? Read it!

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