Review of Pattie McCarthy’s X Y Z & &

x y z & &
Pattie McCarthy. Ahsahta Press, $12 US paperback (50p) ISBN 978-1-934103-55-5

& to & such a pretty bird. this is
the first sonnet for the third baby. if
I sound prepared for that, I am not.
let me know you’re all right in there, would you?
Kevin says : I dreamt it was a boy.
my brother says : your favorite presidents
cannot be F D R & Jefferson—
that’s illogical. Emmett says : when I
was pregnant with you, that was a tough week too.
Asher says : seashell, voilà.          & the third
(having outgrown a perfect, fragile world)
baby (       bird from brid OE from unknown
origin)                                 “because he was crying
I like him most of all,” says my son.

And so opens Philadelphia poet Pattie McCarthy’s new chapbook, x y z & & (Boise ID: Ahsahta Press, 2015). McCarthy is the author of four trade poetry collections, most recently Nulls (Grand Rapids MI: Horse Less Press, 2014), as well as a handful of poetry chapbooks, and her x y z & & is a suite of thirty-three pages that explores and extends her work in collage and accumulation, stitching together scattered notes on parenting, language, nursing, childbirth and babies. McCarthy magnificently articulates the anxiety, distraction, exhaustion and bliss of parenting small children, as she writes: “I had four hours in a row alone / to work & I looked at photos of them / & remembered the limitless mistakes / it was possible to make with the piano.” In an interview recently over at Touch the Donkey, she briefly discusses the chapbook:

I have a chapbook called ‘x y z &&’ coming out in the fall (Ahsahta Press)—it’s a sonnet sequence I wrote after my third child was born (I wrote a sonnet sequence after each child was born). One of the epigraphs is from Anselm Berrigan’s poem “Looking through a slant of light” : “Sending his mother to the typewriter / To type a poem that would embarrass him / Years later.” That’s my preemptive action on this front.

There are things related to the children that I do not write about because they are invasions of privacy, sure. It was harder when they were infants/toddlers because it doesn’t seem as though they have privacy when they are so little – it doesn’t feel like I have privacy during that phase either.


Obviously, I think they are brilliant & funny & clever—it would be impossible to resist them getting in the text.

There is quite a stretch of poets writing on and around the domestic in intriguing ways, allowing the small and smaller details of home and children as material for a language-driven writing, from Canadian poet Margaret Christakos, to American poets such as Dan Thomas-Glass, Julie Carr, Rachel Zucker and Farid Matuk, who’s chapbook My Daughter La Chola (2013) also appeared with Ahsahta Press. Given that home and children are so much a part of the days of certain writers, it seems almost impossible to not wonder why more poets don’t include such details in their own work. McCarthy’s x y z & & provides material beyond the ends of the standard alphabet and into every parents’ movement into new and unfamiliar territory, writing the confusion, exploration and small and large discoveries beautifully, including two poems on the sometimes exhaustive and all-encompassing stretches of nursing: “milk fever cluster feeding witching hour / cluster feeding milk fever witching hour / witching hour milk fever cluster feeding / witching hour cluster feeding milk fever.” Anyone with a newborn, who is also interested in the language of great poetry, should be reading this. Or should I say: everyone. And the structure of untitled poems composed as a suite also means it is possible to begin on any page, and read in either direction.

aren’t children little pears & observant
birds. dear Fionnuala & your two little
sharp teeth : what’s great about the quiet car :
the businessmen read the paper on paper.
I’m wearing wellies & wellie-warers
I’ll spend almost $8 on coffee
                while at work—
      (I miss the baby)
in physics, a daughter is a nuclide
formed by the radioactive decay
of another. of course, mother rhymes with
another. but this is just too meta-
& silly & loaded for me. pinion
on the clean fin clear clear wave
we remain open, persons in process.


Purchase x y z & & HERE.

Reviewer bio: Born in Ottawa, Canada’s glorious capital city, rob mclennan currently lives in Ottawa. The author of nearly thirty trade books of poetry, fiction and non-fiction, he won the John Newlove Poetry Award in 2010, the Council for the Arts in Ottawa Mid-Career Award in 2014, and was longlisted for the CBC Poetry Prize in 2012. His most recent titles include notes and dispatches: essays (Insomniac press, 2014, The Uncertainty Principle: stories, (Chaudiere Books, 2014) and the poetry collection If suppose we are a fragment (BuschekBooks, 2014). An editor and publisher, he runs above/ground press, Chaudiere Books, The Garneau Review (, seventeen seconds: a journal of poetry and poetics (, Touch the Donkey ( and the Ottawa poetry pdf annual ottawater ( He spent the 2007-8 academic year in Edmonton as writer-in-residence at the University of Alberta, and regularly posts reviews, essays, interviews and other notices at