Saturday, March 04, 2006


ANN E. MICHAEL reviews

Snakeskin Stilettos By Moyra Donaldson
(Cavankerry Press, Ltd., 2002)

I have a friend, a painter and printmaker, for whom shoes are a recurring motif; that’s the initial reason I picked up Moyra Donaldson’s book. “Great pair of shoes on the cover,” I thought, “Wonder if I should buy this for Annie?” Then I turned to the title poem, where “not for nothing/has your mother wrapped them in paper,/shut them into their box, set them/at the very back of the wardrobe./Forbidden.”

The eight-year-old child in this poem already understands that these shoes are waiting for “Something/you’ve never felt before.” These high heels, “live and dangerous,” are something to grow into and to slip out of, like a snake’s skin. Such transformations, the growing-into and slipping-out-of, appear in several of this collection’s strongest poems. Donaldson invokes the goddess Kali (who takes a serpent’s guise at times), evokes a restless child’s shape-shifting magic (“My Turn to Be the Horse”), or retells the seal-woman story with which Americans may be familiar through the movie “The Legend of Rowan Innish.”

Donaldson’s poetry is easy to read and rewarding to re-read, for her poems are layered; there are allusions, myths, places to which the inquisitive reader will return. She is deft with very brief poems (under ten lines) that are short but not slight. Only a few fall somewhat shy of excellence and even these are buoyed by considered placement in the collection.

Cavankerry Press reprinted this book, first published by Lagan Press of Belfast in Donaldson’s native Northern Ireland, for U.S. distribution. I commend Cavankerry for recognizing the sexy, scary, and familiar undertones of Donaldson’s work and for bringing Snakeskin Stilettos over to our side of the pond.


Ann E. Michael is a poet, essayist and librettist whose work has appeared widely in journals and anthologies. Her chapbook More Than Shelter (2004) is available from Spire Press, and she has two chapbooks forthcoming in 2006, one from FootHills Publishing and another from Finishing Line Press. She is a recipient of a PA Council on the Arts fellowship in poetry and currently teaches at DeSales University. Her website is


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