We Like Feelings. We Are Serious by Julie McIsaac is the kind of poetry collection that feels like a series of chapbooks magicked into a coherent spell. Each section sprouts with vehemence and throughout I was drawn again and again to the proclamation in her poem “No Theory” about a third of the way in that, “It’s unlikely these soft and / hard things will not be messy.” Her poetry embraces the mess, is not afraid to confront it, and is willing to do the hard work to create something from the mess that others seem afraid to engage with, let alone pen, which makes this work all the more necessary.
To Gash the Reader
Angry femininity (I join those words in a positive sense as I see it as an asset of this book) pulses through every page of this absorbing, at-times uncomfortable work. McIsaac’s poetry opens a vulnerable gash in the reader, as you are made to look at things you may not want to look at, particularly in a section written from a male perspective as the protagonist behind the poems mentally plays out sexual fantasies about his coworkers. It is disgusting to inhabit that type of mind. It is disheartening to think I may know too many of those men depicted there. And it is ultimately frightening to think of how easy it is to exist as that type of man and face no mental dissonance or societal pushback.
What she is able to do through these poems is remarkable, while she crafts lines that could easily be the anthem for a next-wave feminism in saying, “I won’t anymore / live in a world where paranoia’s the only possible act of knowing.” Later, in “Prisons”, she notes, “My friend spat on the ground, on top of my / tears, asserting that even in sadness there must also be anger.” And then, nearing the end, she says, “Their bodies were part of this paper and ink… knowing that this writing came from the body.”
This collection is visceral and unapologetic to be what it is, which ends up being a work of sparkling talent. It made me examine my world, my surroundings, through a different prism, through one where if I am not part of the solution in dismantling patriarchal misogyny and its attendant ilk, then I am a lazy piece of the problem. The best poetry ignites the soul. It is impossible to get close to McIsaac’s work without feeling the flames.