Rewriting the Rational: Drolleries by Cassidy McFadzean

In “Saturnalia,” McFadzean writes: “Outside, a field of wheat moved as a single mind,” invoking a sense of earthliness combined with the ethereal. The feeling of togetherness continues later in the poem: “When we’re each of us in our bleeding, // and might speak to matters of the abdomen, / then it’s moonlets and stars that ground me.” This juxtaposition between imagery of the sky versus imagery of the earth grounds the otherworldly elements, making them seem rational and real. The poem speaks to hurt through the cosmos and presents a solution on earth through space and stars.

The poem “Necropants” talks about a pair of pants made out of human skin that “will draw coins from living souls, and his crotch will never be empty / when he scratches it.” McFadzean unsettles images of powerful sorcerers, bringing up questions of the actions and results involved in magic.

Another example of this kind of dry humour is in “Leaving the Garden.” McFadzean writes: “The lights dim as I stand before / The Garden of Earthly Delights, bigger / in person than on my leggings.” By bringing an art gallery gift shop into the gallery, she creates a portrait of contemporary modes of engaging with art. This notion draws in the title of the book, which McFadzean indicates is the term for drawings of human-animal hybrids in the margins of medieval manuscripts. She ascribes this term to the paintings of Bosch, calling his fantasy painted creatures “drolleries / in the margins of our melded book / of hours.”

In “The Way,” McFadzean delves into realities of sexual assault that come with the enticing images of the ethereal. The poem starts with the following lines:

If the forest opened itself to me,
how deeply would I follow it inside?
Or if you dropped pebbles to follow,
would I allow you to invite me in.

This imagined scenario quickly falls apart as the speaker says, “I remembered / I’d forgotten about rape…prompted by the man / clad in Lycra shorts jogging toward me.”

While bringing together the supernatural with reality, McFadzean does not allow the reader to forget the dangers present in this world of her creation either. The speaker of the poem asks, “In a world that’s mainly insects, did I move / in it too heavily?” The lyrical structure of this question makes the possibility of a world made of insects quite plausible, and McFadzean does this over and over again throughout the collection.

In Drolleries, the journey from the grotesque of witchcraft to that of the artistic situates magic and non-realism in a historical and present world. McFadzean takes this path slowly, infusing in elements of the real world in such a way that magic seems a natural part of the everyday.


Manahil Bandukwala is the author of two chapbooks, Paper Doll (Anstruther Press, 2019) and Pipe Rose (battleaxe press, 2018). See her work at



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