Book Review: Madbooks

MadBooks is an imprint of Carlow University’s Madwomen in the Attic Program. The brainchild of Professor Jan Beatty, head of Carlow’s writing program and instructor of several Madwomen in the Attic courses (for non-matriculated students) during the regular school year, MadBooks has now published eight collections of poetry, the first in 2008, the most recent in 2011.

Three of these volumes were published after the poets’ deaths, each poet having left collections that were well along to becoming books. The other five volumes are by still-living—and, we hope, long-lived poets.

Each of the poets has her own distinctive voice, her particular way of seeing and understanding the world. MadBooks has taken pains to assure that these distinctions are represented by each author’s book and, in the process, has assembled an impressive set of publications. (I should confess to being the editor of these books, serving together with Jan Beatty who is senior editor.) The graphic designer and poet in his own right, Todd Sanders, has designed each of these beautiful volumes. I touch on below, far too briefly, each poet’s work.

Jo Ann F. Pratt’s chapbook Leaf Writing: The History of a Tree, MadBook’s first publication, expresses the author’s varied interests from the natural through the anthropological to the historical worlds. Pratt’s book was published posthumously.

Watching the Summer Away

Those dive-bombing hummingbirds
are back, chasing each other around
and around a ruby red globe
filled with sugar water, the center
of their universe. As I watch
the summer away in my patio chair,
wings whirr so close the hairs
on my head blow in the air
current of their flight. Their tiny
iridescent bodies, more like giant
insects, hover above the perch
of my nose as they check out
my trustworthiness. Ready
at a second’s notice to put out
my eye with an epee-like beak
then fly to a nearby tree to gloat

Steam Rising by Anita Gevaudan Byerly arrived only hours before her death in 2009. Byerly had published several books and many individual poems that vividly express her sense of place, though “place” covers several countries and includes strong ties to family and community. In Steam Rising “When My head Gets Too Big, I Remember” begins,

I was a poached egg in the first grade play.
That is all I remember about the first grade…
that and a boy named Harry,
who wore dirty shirts, torn knickers,
and smelled like my grandma’s cellar.
He always tried to sit by me,
pull my braids, upset my box
of cardboard letters, put his hands
on my desk so I couldn’t print.

In “My Father’s Language” Byerly speaks of the foreign-born father’s havaing learned to speak a new language.

Now I’m learning a new diction:
words like carcinoma, invasive chemo
that cut like a scalpel: heavy words
like lymph nodes, tamoxifen that catch
in my throat the way the guttural
English consonants must have caught
in yours that first day at Shady Park.

Christina Murdoch’s Burying the Body was published by MadBooks in the aftermath of the birth of her daughter and, not long after, her own death. In this instance, friends, other Madwomen in the Attic and Christina’s husband collaborated to assemble the volume that Christina had already gone far to put together. She writes:

Regarding a Gathering Storm
From this hillside, I have seen
the staggered rocks below. It rains every morning here,
but the ocean starts first—
slaps the cliffs with an open palm and curls over, taking what it
can into its fist:
earth, rusty pitchforks, a few goats. This is when the sea floods
into the sky and everything beyond the cliff is some fluid deviation
of gray.
I can’t understand how the goats don’t sense the change
in the ocean, the salt sweat on the cliff grass—
why they don’t know how far it can reach,
how far back in the field they should stay.


Filed under: Poetics, Prose