How Distant the City By Freesia McKee.
Review by Jessica S. Frank
Opening on the excuses of privilege and closing on the smallness of the world, poet Freesia McKee takes her readers through the portals of personhood in her chapbook How Distant the City. Her collection braids home, neighborhood, and the world together in one strong rope to hang on to.
Taking cues from her hometown paper, McKee finds something to say beyond the headline in poems like “Date Grape” (about an offensive beer name) and her title poem “How Distant the City” (about the fires set after a police shooting in 2016). “When the world watched / little changed” she writes in “How Distant the City” and then leaves her reader with the striking last two lines of the poem (and collection) “All that burned / was a candle” which is a beautiful and telling image for this collection. McKee takes a candle to issues like family relationships, war, current societal norms, and sexual harassment to illuminate each poem, building the small spotlights that can start big fires.
The sense of place is strong in this collection, for example, the Milwaukee pieces, but the situations described could be anyone’s life and city. For example, in her poem “The Most Beautiful Yard Milwaukee,” the speaker learns that her friend growing up had a father that molested his kids. The speaker’s mother relays this information and also gives an explanation of why she stopped allowing her child to visit that home. The speaker looks back on things as an adult and recognizes the things that were off with that family, “in one year, / the littlest one looked just like mine / but she had a fit in your fenced yard and died. // you said your parents made you cut / the whole yard with a shears after that.”
There’s an internal look at womanhood running through these poems as well, as evidenced in the prose poem “Haircuts” and in “Hot Chick,” both commenting on the use of women as inferiors and perhaps objects. In “Haircuts” the speaker is going about her days and comments, “But I am not thinking about. / What I heard this morning.” But the world news is forefront in the speaker’s mind, and she can’t not think about rape. “Hot Chick” describes a somewhat hostile work environment where the speaker is encouraged to take the sexual harassment thrown at her, citing her female boss saying, “Just pretend that / he said you go girl.” McKee leaves her readers feeling the heaviness of what it is to be a woman and what women have to endure.
After reading How Distant the City, one is left feeling like they went on an important journey along with the poet. I found myself wanting more poems to read, which is the telltale sign of reading an enjoyable collection.