From “Branches” to “Grocery List Poems,” the ethereal work of Rhiannon McGavin continues to bloom in her sophomore poetry book. Rhiannon McGavin, a former Los Angeles Youth Poet Laureate, began her career in publication in 2017 with her poem “Things that could Happen to a Girl wearing Jeans,” published in Teen Vogue. From her video poem “Chick Lit” being featured on Button Poetry to becoming a growing columnist in Believer Magazine, McGavin’s career as a poet has burst in recent years.
In the summer of 2021, McGavin swept her audiences away with the release of her sophomore collection of poetry, “Grocery List Poems.” Described as an “orchard,” McGavin redefines time in terms of her own essence of life. Writing about hickies, love, cuisine and internal growth; the cover art does not fail to represent the images penned to page. An orange ripped open with a jagged edge to reveal a cloudy blue sky against a yellow background summons the mystical representation of McGavin’s collection this time around.
Page one consists of “Pith,” a somber story of a trip to the beach with words scattered across the page, each line drawn into certain stanzas. She writes, “You’re downhill running past the sins gathered on the shoreline / like eyelashes crushed with years, and the sea’s kissing the white hem / of your dress and you’re pushing through the water, blood-warm.” While the poem’s structure is intriguing with its gamut line breaks, the wonderful words strung together are enough to become immersed in the summertime peace the book embodies.
Divided by newspaper-printed pages with singular quotes, including one from Agnes Varda, “Grocery List Poems” is amalgamated of three sections all suiting different facets of McGavin’s writing. In “Manifesto in an unknown language,” the second poem put into place, the imagery strikes the reader with “a sea that carves cracked bottles into gems,” and “waiting for that love like a nasturtium / the petals with their birthday candle flame.” The scenes pictured in each poem are revealing in a more mature way than McGavin’s past personifications.
In McGavin’s debut poetry book “Branches,” released about two years prior to “Grocery List Poems,” most poems include the word “I” to begin lines. As she writes on her website, “Branches,” is about “girlhood, science and other fairy tales.” In similar fashion, but with a clear indication of adolescence being led to adulthood, McGavin describes “Grocery List Poems” as “a book about dreams and good movies.” Each poem fills the page in a way that is different from other contemporary, aesthetically-driven poets such as Rupi Kaur, and the speaker of McGavin’s “Grocery List Poems” is consistent in its voice.
“Top note” is a series of couplets quite literally “rooted” in the traditional form of a sonnet. Switching into an observant tone, the point of view narrates, “of course, how she would pick each pear with a twist, delicate / as how she dropped a white mouse in the aquarium of her garden snake.” Followed by poems entitled, “Crush,” “Canoodle” and “Walking through the husband,” manners of love come fleeting back into the work. Rather than remain within the bounds of a surface-level, oversimplified view of love, the poems string together the theme of humanity woven into dreams of love. Breaking into freeform verse, McGavin finalizes “Walking through the husband” with, “I was taught what any kiss needs / a future, it can’t be left / unanswered, here I bite / to the seed and it’s still / sweet. There is no other ending.” From a reader’s perspective, the book develops into an alluring beach read. The romantic, sweltering emotion, and light alliteration all commingle for poetry at its sunniest.
Arguably, the kink in the free-flowing poetry book is when McGavin shakes up her formative poetry with short lines and a long title. It is still apparent that the speaker needs to recalibrate; to make sense of their surroundings. “Horror movie finale with 5 things I can see, 4 things I feel, 3 things to hear, 2 scents, 1 taste,” is the title of the first film-focused poem caught by my own attentive eye.
McGavin’s newest body of work is sliced in half by a series of numbered poems, all compiling into what is called “Dream Diary.” This nearly twenty-page long section delves into a more journalistic, loosened style of writing that ties the trains of thought back into one another. Poem number 10 in “Dream Diary” recites, “There, brushed honey gold, spun from irises / to raw silk hems and a whale bone corset, / the bodice like whole oranges peeled for / a wish.” With whimsical lines, the speaker of the poem ignites the summer wildfire in the reader’s heart, stepping into a new life of someone unknown.
Though “Branches” features less imaginative imagery and more narrative, “Grocery List Poems” contains enough elemental balance to create a more mature verse than the last. As the third section arises, “Habit” paints the portrait that grabs the reader by the head. The confessionality of the speaker emerges in the couplets, “three times before it sticks. I’m growing / my hair out in case I have to burn it off. I lose” as lines break and continue thoughts broken up by themselves, the relatability hits home. “Perennial” takes a turn into tweaking the original narrative. The couplets, “Now the flowers are umbrellas / opening from the crowded station / of the ground. Between myself / and the arms of a man I hate / is a length of time, green thin / as matchsticks, breakable, sending…” creates a new dimension of the speaker, as past experiences are naturally extended away from the new, brightened, existence.
For an audience close to her own age and background, McGavin pens the meaning of her existence with purpose: to branch out and list life’s meaning in a compelling and grounded way.
Kristine Kearns is a second-year English major with minors in Creative Writing and Sustainability. KK947319@wcupa.edu