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Crying Dress

by Cassidy McFadzean

Cassidy McFadzean in a whote dress and a beige book cover witha abstract figure that looks like a person

Cassidy McFadzean (Tony Tulathimutte)

“The most interesting part of architecture is the non-functioning,” writes Cassidy McFadzean in “Pier Evil,” one of the poems in her third collection. In a later poem, McFadzean clarifies this observation: “Fluting’s the only feature distinguishing / columns from stone.” What the poet is talking about is the relationship between form and function: a plain stone block could surely support a structure; once that stone block is fluted, it becomes art.

The same principle can be applied to poetry, and it is clear that McFadzean has a keen sympathy for the process by which her stone is chiselled and fluted and filigreed. The poems in Crying Dress are replete with linguistic play and bravura, if somewhat self-conscious technique. They display great affinity for alliteration and assonance: “We simmer a strawberry shrub,” or, “Sooner I suss out the colour sucked / Psyche’s better off disembodied,” or again, “A body walking at an angle towards me / Abrasive to my aura.”

There is also plenty of punning, as in “I don’t want to loose you,” or, “Veering / into hide-and-boo seek,” both from “Tender Perennial.” This can provide a jaunty aspect to what might otherwise appear as a collection of dour material, though McFadzean has a tendency to push it too far, as in a pair of poems – “Book of Ours” and “Whiching Our” – that employ the same pun. (The latter is a twofer: both words punning on a common phrase for the middle of the night, “A night fretful with worries,” as the poem has it.)

But if literary critic Mark Schorer was correct – and there should be little doubt that he was – technique in isolation is not only undesirable, but impossible. “When we speak of technique,” Schorer wrote, “… we speak of nearly everything. For technique is the means by which the writer’s experience, which is his subject matter, compels him to attend to it.” Form and content, for Schorer, were inseparable; there is no such thing as “non-functioning” architecture. Or if there is, something has gone wrong.

If McFadzean’s technique stands out in bas-relief, it must therefore be in the service of the poems’ content, which is focused largely on the speaker’s intimate relationship with her lover, her recently discovered sobriety, and grief over the death of her mother. In this context, the poems often work best when least adorned: when, for example, McFadzean refers to “Sound ricochet[ing] bags of breaking / glass down the garbage chute,” or “Our futures slotted together like spoons.” Seemingly anodyne observations can in fact contain large truths (“The ocean is never kitsch”) and formal play devoid of overt cleverness can delight, as in “Gilding the Lily,” which begins, “Someone put glasses on Gwendolyn / Her bust, a makeshift lost and found.” (Compare this to a similar tactic in “So This Is What a Bed of Roses Feels Like,” which opens with the punning cliché, “How can we nip this in the bud?”)

Crying Dress takes up the course of one year, broken into seasons beginning with winter and running through fall (note: not autumn – another pun). At its best, it is a meditation on human fragility and uncertainty (“Will our children brandish sticks?”). If it occasionally drifts into wilful obscurity this is mitigated by the moments of true emotional affect, as in the collection’s poignant final image: “The elaborate dream my mother faked her death: / she’d been swimming all this time in Texas.”


Reviewer: Steven W. Beattie

Publisher: House of Anansi Press


Price: $21.99

Page Count: 11 pp

Format: Paper

ISBN: 978-1-48701-258-8

Released: April

Issue Date: April 2024

Categories: Poetry, Reviews