Karen Mac Cormack, in collaboration with British poet Alan Halsey, made a terrific splash with FIT TO PRINT, an examination of the poetic possibilities of the newspaper column. She's back now, with At Issue, a sequel of sorts that continues Mac Cormack's incisive investigation of the language of popular media.
Creating a kind of poetic dialogue with the form and content of lifestyle magazines such as Vogue (both British and American versions), Self (a health and fitness magazine geared to a female readership) and Prevention (another health magazine), the poems often take the form of critical commentary on the images and texts in these magazines. Sometimes Mac Cormack quotes directly, but more often she addresses these words and pictures obliquely, using a dazzling array of poetic techniques. In 'At Issue IX,' for example, she writes, 'HermÃ¨swraps your fingers around a splash / opting for contradiction / an originality competition / "as if there aren't enough ironies already" / but how can a hat be whimsical?'
The strength - and beauty - of the poems in At Issue is that they manage to be critical without being condescending. This is language with style. A startling, always inventive blend of mass culture and avant-garde writing practice.