Reviewed by Orooj-e-Zafar
Slag is a book I had to put down because it crawled into my dreams, my every thought, reminding me over and over of the ugly things the world houses. Mcilroy has mastered the art of crafting poetry that never leaves the reader.
Slag is written from unimaginable hurt transformed into a beautifully crafted, gritty truth. Split in three parts punctuated with a saying each, the poems that follow carry themes consistent with the dialogue. Part 1 is heavy with gory details of the abuse whereas Part 2 mellows out a little and exhibits the cold consequences of abuse. Mcilroy questions with acquired stiffness and steel-strength assuredness. It is written in lover’s longing, but still tainted with the gruesome foundation of her experiences. An example, “This is how the heart breaks./ On Sundays mostly, cracked/ vase, big bed, the sun/ like god’s head turning away,/ his shadow, his narrow back.” Part 3 seemed the most inconsistent of all three, though it made up for its lack of niche with its gorgeous use of language; it would have been a stronger stand-alone chapbook than as the third section of Slag.
Written achronologically, Slag sometimes takes the reader into the frightened confusion of a child, gradually coming to terms with dark, repetitive events. She demonstrates disappointment first with striking lines such as, “I knew he could fix it. I knew he wouldn’t.” and finally, acceptance of the cruelty done unto her, “I must want, I must need what I get.”
In “The Way Out” we see Mcilroy’s first worry associated with her future, her daughter, and how she “will kill him if he touches her.” Her use of repetition is the tap of a thousand chills playing along the reader’s spine. The highest point is the much-awaited “My Girl – A Love Letter To Myself,” a poem the reader sighs in relief to see, a victory in its existence.
Mcilroy shows a range of voice in her poems, united in their unfaltering resolve to survive. She punctuates some of her most explicit poems with innocent, colorful imagery of pouty summers. While some metaphors were abstract and clouded, and there were tone breaks, the gritty imagery is otherwise consistent for the theme. Mcilroy makes up for her sparse obtuseness with alarming rawness that cannot be tamed by her form of choice.
Slag is uncompromisingly written from the hot iron fist of experience and Mcilroy’s resilience cannot be missed. One thing is for certain: it startles the reader to realization.
Leslie Anne Mcilroy won the 1997 Slipstream Poetry Chapbook Prize for Gravel, the 2001 Word Press Poetry Prize for her full-length collection Rare Space and the 1997 Chicago Literary Awards. Her second book, Liquid Like This, was published by Word Press in 2008 and Slag was published by Main Street Rag Publishing Company in December, 2014. Leslie’s poems appear or are forthcoming in Grist, Jubilat, The Mississippi Review, PANK, Pearl, Poetry Magazine, New Ohio Review and more. She is a 2014 Pushcart Prize nominee and managing editor of HEArt — Human Equity through Art. Leslie works as a copywriter in Pittsburgh where she lives with her daughter Silas. Books and more at lamcilroy.org.