Relationship with food on trial in Eating Matters

By Claire Matthews

Caitlin Press delivers another must-read collection of poetry, this time by poet and teacher Kara-lee MacDonald, called Eating Matters. These poems, divided into four parts, investigate the narrator’s relationship with food and the various ways her eating habits have defined her living experience.

What struck me the most about this collection—more than the rawness and vulnerability—was the exploration of intimacy. Sometimes, it’s the refusal of intimacy, like when the narrator avoids kisses from her lover until she can brush her teeth and the acid in her throat calms itself. It’s a friend trying to connect and relate to the narrator’s world. A friend who wants to try throwing up so she can “‘know what it’s like.’” And MacDonald goes beyond her exploration of intimacy within the context of bulimia and broadens it to a femme experience. Glimpses into moments that many people who identify as female can relate to: “men who think a smile is an invitation for/ physical contact” and women who “want to embody/ the consummate female.”

This multifaceted intimacy that MacDonald offers to the reader is delivered with carefully rendered language and other times bluntness. When MacDonald forgoes poeticism for straightforwardness, is when the truth and gravity of the matter hits you the hardest. She writes, “the scale’s reading is a numerical reflection of my value as a human being.”  That kind of honesty is captivating. As is the narrator’s compulsion, her unwavering desire to purge and divest herself of everything inside. It surfaces in many of these poems. As do therapy sessions, technical language, and even the comparison of the narrator’s obsession with purging to an equation she must solve “with no residual bits.”

The intimacy is unexpected, similar to the kernels of humour MacDonald plants throughout. Her funeral soundtrack, the dig at yoga magazine for “teaching women/ how to purge/ and telling them/ it will strengthen/ their vaginas,” and her anthropomorphizing of a scale. Her humour is dark, a little morbid at times, and fits perfectly within these poems. Like any time I begin a book, I forgo expectations. MacDonald spares no one: not herself and certainly not society. Part of the joy of reading is surprise and connection. Eating Matters delivers both and so much more.

If you’d like to experience Kara-Lee MacDonald’s work live, she’ll be reading on February 22 at Notional Space (1523 East Pender) alongside Jane Byers, Elizabeth Bachinsky, and Leanne Dunic. Admission is free, but seating is limited. RSVP to the event on Eventbrite:


Claire Matthews is a UBC MFA student, writer, editor, soap maker, and whiskey drinker.