McKee’s short collection, published by Against the Grain Poetry Press, is a volume concerned with transformations. In "sheepish," we find a woman who awakes to find wool and horns on her person, perhaps as it her inner self-consciousness has become a Kafkaesque outer manifestation (indeed, there is an allusion to a "dry clicking beetle" in the poem). Elsewhere, a son plays dress-up, first looking like Jan van Eyck’s Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?) with a t-shirt for a turban, then as Dolly Parton, imitating her stage presence at Glastonbury, "flirting with each last word." The words "love thyne self" scratched into a metal rail leads a rumination on alloys, and how "cold steel may contain | traces of gold."
The pantoum "dead frogs" continues this theme: a dead frog is "revived with electrical charges" like Frankenstein, whereas a bereaved mother imagines her lost baby similarly "arisen," the dead transformed back into life through the power of desire. All this transformation naturally comes alongside ideas and ideals of escapism. In "good morning," the speaker imagines slipping down into a sewer in order to reach a river,
get to the sea
will have to pretend
to listen to me
There is the suggestion of being the outsider here, of a person who feels the weariness that comes with conformity and expectation. The theme of escapism expands: we see it in Van Gogh’s suicide, vividly reformed as the blood from the gunshot wound becoming a "splatter || of red on gold | in the foreground." Another speaker wonders if they are supernatural after doctors find of a trace of "occult blood" (blood that can’t be seen by the naked eye) in a stool, the name suggesting new possibilities.
McKee’s ultimate escape and transformation, however, is to be found in romantic and intimate love. In a changing room, the panduriform form is desired - "I notice she is a violin" – whereas in the British Museum, the appreciation of a portrait is distracted by their partner’s hand between their thighs. Elsewhere, we have the desire for skin "liberally scattered with moles" to be licked, and teeth to be sunk into a flank. McKee is unabashedly forthright, not only in her desires but also her insecurities, and it is this honesty that is one of the driving forces behind her poems.
The entire collection is deceptively simple: you could skim your way through the book in about twenty minutes. However, such a rush would be to ignore and dismiss the depths and varied connections that are on offer throughout the work. Rather than giving us the whole picture, McKee has laid down a jigsaw for us to piece together, which results in a complex portrait of poet as woman, as lover, as individual, as rebel.
Colin Dardis is a neurodivergent writer, editor and sound artist from Northern Ireland. His most recent book is Apocrypha: Collected Early Poems (Cyberwit, 2022). His work, largely influenced by his experiences with depression and Asperger's, has been published widely throughout Ireland, the UK and USA.