Wine For A Shotgun – Marty McConnell
I’ve never written a review of a poetry anthology before, so it’s difficult to know how to start. Marty McConnell is my favourite contemporary poet, so when I finally discovered she was finally publishing an anthology, I was quite excited, even more so when it turns out that she was also releasing it as an audiobook, which is the format I experienced Wine for a Shotgun in. (Unfortunately I discovered that the audiobook actually doesn’t include all the poems from the anthology, which is a pity, but I’m still counting this as a whole book).
By background, McConnell is a slam poet, hence my preference for the audiobook. Unfortunately if I’m honest, as much as I love the poetry and McConnell’s voice (both authorial and her actual speaking voice) I was a little disappointed by the performances in the book. Partly it’s for purely aesthetic reasons: previously my only experience with her poetry is from watching bootlegs of slams on YouTube, and the quality of the audio is grainy at best, and the acoustics in a venue are of course going to be different from a recording studio. As a result, the poems all feel a little to clean compared to what I’m used to. it’s not fair to criticise this, because generally you expect audiobooks to be good quality. The other downside is that whereas normally her performances are full of emotion, these readings are a little more restrained (except for The Magician is a Drag King, which is perfectly self-confident and arrogant). This is again understandable, due to the difference in context, and for most of the poems it works well, though this rendition of Seven of Pentacles, or Why You Shouldn’t Come Home With Me, which in its restraint seems to be missing something.
Enough about the performance side of the book, what about the poems themselves? Well, the selection from the audiobook demonstrate much of McConnell’s usual themes: emotional turbulence, gender confusion, the queer experience, family dynamics, & disillusionment. One thing that is missing is there isn’t much in the way of outright political commentary. The poems featured here are (generally speaking), very personal which means that works deal with heavily political issues would be out-of-place among poems such as When your Very Pregnant Sister Sits Down at Her Own Table, or when your ex-girlfriend’s sister corners you in the kitchen. The latter of these, incidentally, is probably my favourite of the new poems in the collection, though I can’t think of any off the top of my head that I didn’t like.
There are lots of other things I could talk about in reviewing this collection, the most obvious being a discussion on the effects of casually using a certain anatomical swear-word in poetry, but I think that might be best left for another time, though it’s not as though plenty of other people haven’t already talked about it. If you get the chance, you should absolutely check this collection out, and even if you’re not especially into poetry, you might find that watching some of her performances online might bring you around. It’s certainly a long way from the works that generally get taught in schools.