Slag by Leslie Anne Mcilroy
Reviewed by Julie Demoff-Larson
Holy Crap! Leslie Anne Mcilroy’s poetry collection SLAG rips any taboos associated with sexual abuse to shreds and spreads the bits all out in the open that challenges the comfort zone. The collection, presented in three parts, deals with abuse, incest, the long-term emotion toll/effects, and little moments of coping. Mcilroy is at times shocking and hard hitting, yet remains accessible by staying close to themes and language that are familiar.
Mcilroy does not ease the reader into the world in which she is writing. No, she kicks into high gear right from the start with the title poem “SLAG.” She begins subtly, informing that the collection is a reflection; a sort of settling into “a blanket across her memory…thick like minor’s dust, an iron door.” Description of everyday happenings and duties create calloused hands–apparent defense mechanisms for the abused. Yet, there is uncertainty of what she is speaking of, offering only a vague clue under the PART I heading that states, “There is romance even in the beating. And how do you say that?” But this short quote does not express the true path of the collection. It is at the end of “SLAG” when you realize what you are in for.
“The man’s fingers are dry and hot as he teaches her
how to play. When he kisses her, she kisses back.
It is freezing without her gloves and underwear, but his hands
are a furnace and that is enough. He doesn’t ask her
not to tell. Instead he points to the smokestacks
across the river still burning, says how the blue fire
from the molten ore can singe your skin off, leave you
cold like steel. Tells her she’ll never feel anything like it.”
Slag undeniably breaks down the barrier between the body and the psyche as Mcilroy meanders through a dreamlike state, sometimes using the dream as a way to fight with the self, sometimes with the dominator. Notable dream poems include, “250 Rebel,” Running with Daddy,” and “Dreaming of Men VII.” However, even more profound language is found in Mcilroy’s poems that deal with body image and the insecurities that result from years of abuse. “Razor Thin” and “Living with the Thin Girl” tackles these themes twisting imagery stemming from the normal.
“The thin girl burns calories lifting
hangers from the shopping rack,
hungry as anyone for a bargain.
She is not obsessed with her waist
or the way her stomach laces her hips
together like a rope bridge bent
beneath the weight of the wind.”
“Just imagine the bite
of one so slight that the space
between the door and jamb
is expanse. Squeezing between
the hinges, she slips away
and you don’t notice she’s gone
until you see yourself
in the mirror,
sad face, soft belly.”
–from “Living with the Thin Girl”
There is one poem in SLAG that had me shaking my head while saying no, I can’t read this. Nope, not gonna do it. But, I did. I couldn’t help myself. Albeit uncomfortable at times to read, the collection is powerful and reading through means conquering your own fears about the unknown and the incomprehensible. “Rape Baby” is one of the toughest reads I have ever encountered. I place it up there with Sapphire’s Push. Be aware that there is a point to the poem and not just there for shock value.
Although this is an in your face and go do something about this kind of a collection, Mcilroy has some tender moments scattered throughout. She wraps up the collection not so much with closure, but with friendship and hope for a different outcome in the future. Main Street Rag Publishing has put out some quality work here and it is a testament to the social themes they want to promote. Slag is as real as it gets. Some would say not for the weary, but I say those are the people who need read it.