Cadaver's Dance by David McLean
Whistling Shade Press, 2008

Reviewed by Rachel Kendall

a corpse is self-sufficing
where death is perfection.
a corpse is introspection.
a corpse is not giving,
is memory's sullen memento
for the living -


How could I resist the opportunity to read and review a collection of poetry which so succinctly squeezes inself into the memento mori theme? McLean has been a part of the Sein und Werden machine for a long time and his poetry always appeals because of the sting in its tail and the dryness of the humour, and this new collection certainly doesn't disappoint.

Cadaver's Dance is not a morbid reflection on mortality but a collection of poems celebrating or dismissing or analysing what it means to be alive. McLean takes a kind of traditional elegiac language and whittles it down to the dry bones which are par for the course. He says death is death. That is all. It is an unromantic view, a spiritless and cynical acceptance.

for the destiny of consciousness (me),
is amino-acids, water,
sugar, minerals,
food for some stupid tree

('i am older than i was, Kate')

And in this, life is ever-more poetic for its not-too grand finale. For if death is simply a punctuation mark, life must be the message, all be it slightly muddled. That is, passion, excitement, love, rage and hope before annihiliation.

It gives morning stretched on sky-heavy canvas,
torn fragments light as tattered day,
happy as animals turning back to death's clay
It gives sexuality's battered play

('It gives')

... Cadaver shifts, disturbing worms,
and tracing glory through the dust,
the wormy grave that slowly turns
to heaven's mourning weighted with lust

('Cadaver's Sunday morning service')

These poems are a reminder of the Reaper's omnipotence, of his dark mass skulking around corners, waiting, not about to be blind-sided by death's fakers, life's losers:

preserved by soap and a cruel nature's caprice
old people moulder like candied corpses
lined up like deaths in their hospital beds

('in groves of decent graves')

just as heroin's abstinent cells slough away
in man's many deaths, several their suffering,
and reform is expressed in absent expression,
the loving tension that creates
such shaping words,
coiled absurd past the boundaries
of meaning and vocabulary,
the faces this painful age erased
that we be more than God's proud faeces,
replete in our stumblingly clumsy need,
staggering past the stake where witch's fires bleed -

('that tiny suicide')

I don't want to give any more away. Buy the book, read it, relish it. It may not be to everyone's taste, but it certainly makes for some good bedtime reading!

More of McLeans poetry can be found here:

Sergio's Storm
rat-foetus blues