Rousing the Machinery


Poems by Catherine MacDonald
978-1-55728-979-7 (paper)
February 2012


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Winner of the 2012 Miller Williams Poetry Prize
Rousing the Machinery, Catherine MacDonald’s debut collection, describes the “untidy geographies” of inheritance and loss, familial fracture and cohesion. Through precise and evocative imagery rooted in both the natural and domestic spheres, these poems detail the passages of an ordinary life—motherhood, a parent’s long illness, the ambiguities of marriage, a brother’s imprisonment. Rousing the Machinery invokes the music of everyday speech to shape an accessible poetry concerned with our human difficulties and desires.

Catherine MacDonald lives in Richmond, Virginia, and teaches writing at Virginia Commonwealth University. Her poems and criticism have been published in the Crab Orchard Review, Southern Indiana Review, Blackbird, Louisville Review, and other journals. She is also the author of the chapbook How to Leave Home.

“In Rousing the Machinery, Catherine MacDonald reshapes a complex, sometimes painful past, a ‘wicked assemblage of the ecstatic and awful, / the heavy-hearted and hopeful.’ While keenly aware of the world beyond, these poems draw discerningly on memories of family—motherhood and childhood, a brother in prison, the loss of a child—MacDonald reminding us of the inescapable ‘clanging together, the swinging apart, / what’s cleaved and then whole,’ and finally that ‘Sanctuary—it arrives in disguise.’ And it arrives in the wise surprise of beautifully made poems such as these. Rousing the Machinery is remarkable.”
—Claudia Emerson, author of Figure Studies: Poems
“Composed of almost equal parts narrative and song interwoven, these impressive poems showcase a mastery of both the necessary story-thread and the lyric leap that mystery requires—as the thread breaks and rejoins to remake what has gone before. MacDonald’s skill with interior slant-rhyme and subtle form (see ‘How to Leave Home’) is superb, and is the weave that steadies and patterns what the book’s epigraph describes as the ‘causal chains of small decisions / almost random, those accidents’ but of course, because this is genuine poetry, nothing here is finally small, and the art of that is no accident. Domestic life, childhood, motherhood; but also myth, far geographies, tragedy—all live new in a careful fabric of language that holds dark wit at the seams of its shimmering. Word-play and world-play here are at once startling and simple; and Rousing the Machinery is a simply stunning debut.”
—Betty Adcock, author of Slantwise: Poems
“There is in Catherine MacDonald’s poems a quality of observation and narrative specificity so acute as to be almost painful. There’s something of Robert Lowell in her unrelenting drive to ‘say what happened,’ yet say it with an awestruck mixture of tenderness, knowing irony, and an admirable command of technique. This is less a ‘promising’ debut collection than it is the work of a writer of maturity and accomplishment. What a rich and abiding book this is!”
—David Wojahn, author of World Tree