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The Hour of the Pearl


            The Hour of the Pearl by Rhona McAdam stared at
me from the library shelf, even as I was considering Margaret Atwood for this assignment. And while I esteem Ms. Atwood, McAdam’s stared at me till I picked it up, and then it was glued to my hand. I literally sat down in the library and read it in an hour. Then I re-read it and re-read it. Her voice in the collection is just so compelling and you feel connected to her personal feelings as if you were the one who had put the pen to the paper.

            McAdam organizes the book in a very logical manner; each section contains poems that relate to each other and the particular subject matter well. Section two, Domestic Hazard, deals with poems about what the reader can only assume is domestic abuse, while section one, Family Lines, deals with the authors childhood memories and poems about specific family members.

            A poem in particular that struck me was “A Gentle Severance of the Spirit,” which discusses the death of old friendships; how it’s lamentable but often we rarely notice the separation. It begins “It seems we’ve been shedding the skin of friendship for years now,” a line which was very powerful in its imagery. To shed your ties to someone like the dead skin of a snake is a very striking thought.

             My favorite poem in collection however was “The Footsteps of Fashion,” which I will include here.

Her feet are marching on needles
caught in the vice of seasonal flair
they are bound in leather and suede
they are pressed into sharp points that spear nothing
they are tipped upwards and propped on slender columns
that impale the meshed covers of street vents
or spike the surface of paths, not wanting to move.

Naked, her feet choose new shapes for themselves
hey grow red, the bones knot at the joints,
he arches sigh and sink earthward.
On certain toes the skin thickens
into graceless lumps the professionals treat
with scalpels and acid.

Her feet leave their shapes in her shoes
press their outlines in leather
scuff their gait in her soles.
Over and over they leave their traces;
time and again she lifts them into fresh shoes
factory clean, the shape of no human appendage
and they must wear their message once more
against the pavement, weather and gravity;
against reason and gender and balance.

            As a lover of high heels and a fashion historian, it’s interesting to see an articulation in poetry about the way fashion, and in this particular case the high heel, shapes our bodies and how we feel about ourselves. The shoes shape us, the speaker’s feet change from wearing heels, get calloused and their arch falls. However, the speaker’s feet also “press their outlines into leather,” shaping the shoes as much as the shoes shape her feet. The last line however strikes the familiar note of “why on earth would anyone wear stilettos?” Women wear them “against reason, and gender and balance.” It begs the question, are women so shallow as to change their bodies for the sake of beauty? I think the answer is, we always have, so why stop now? But all the same we lament the situation.

            I would recommend The Hour of the Pearl to anyone who wants a read that is introspective as well as engaging. Rhona McAdam straight-forwardly opens the door to her life and her mind, and asks you to enter. Go through the door.

-Rachel Icard

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