let us see with the eyes we have unsparedbook cover

Poetry review by Angela Gardner

descansos

Rose Hunter
dancing girl press & studio
24pp, $US7.00

 

After a decade living in Toronto, Rose Hunter, originally from Brisbane, moved to Puerto Vallarta in Mexico. This point is important because she writes poetry out of her life experiences and for the most part they are taking place somewhere quite different.

The entire collection of poems in her most recent chapbook descansos, meaning a resting place or roadside memorial, respond to the death of a friend in a road accident. From this there is a coherence to the collection that is also there in the choice of form, all the poems are written in couplets.

The collection opens with the poem ‘tongue’ first published in wicked alice, the online zine that spawned the publisher dancing girl press & studio.

must have been your time, they said
everything happens for a reason

they used expressions like passing away
some mentioned deceased pets

but where did all the blood come from
the blood and dust
                                                                        (tongue)


There are occasional but natural breaks into Spanish phrases, but there is no artifice, nothing forced. This appears an integral part of the narrative and the flow of the work, used automatically from someone within, but not fluently embedded, in another culture. Rather than assuming her reader to be bilingual, the author herself admits to occasional incomprehension. It is fitting that language, that familiar, has turned from being known to something translated and slightly strange for these are poems about a death. They are about a country that is difficult to comprehend or put into words.


flying slamming rubber metal waiting
casi instantáneamente

what is casi, it’s insufficient.
none of this could have been

imagined when i met you early
evening and i was singing lalala

and laughing and you were too

                                    (rush)

 

The lack of capitals again appropriately promotes a feeling of destabilisation and uncertainty that exists after a sudden death. And in reading the Spanish, I the reader, do not have to know what ‘casi instantáneamente’ means to perfectly understand the insufficiency in the following couplet. Even in looking for the ‘useful emotions’ (green) there may still be incomprehension.

Although her stated sensibility is Buddhist, reading the collection reminded me of that Daoist story from Chuang Tzu of the ‘Dexterous Butcher’ whose sensitivity to the spaces between joints kept his knife blade sharp through thousands of uses. Hunter also has a deftness in the breaking of her lines: a sensitivity to the spaces of language and the strangeness and meaning that are added to story-telling when attention, precision and craft come together.

                               …(driving cautiously

and wearing seatbelts); zacualpan
las varias i couldn’t understand it

why you wanted my input, our present
apartments as well as the contents

of our heads resembled each other
in no way…
                                             (tracks)

 

The poem ‘mapache’ (racoon) starts in media res: “as though emotions as kitchen sponges antennas/or terrycloth robes as though emotions as stocks”. Here is a stream of consciousness that mimics the subjective, incessant sequence, the perpetual flux that is the now of our conscious mind:

                                           …a pancreas is
                 
something for, a liver and the other one. it was you
i called but you already knew, you said something

and it was like from distracted, clinical
there was no heart in it, not the juicy kind

the kind that beats.                 
                                                      (mapache)

 

Within the everyday are those moments of sudden realisation of a death “i was maybe drinking coffee watching/ cnn or deciphering something in spanish// ploddingly i mean in the pictures/ why they were not thrown clear” (flip flops). There are repeated motifs of seatbelts, flip flops and dust that gather power as their significance become more apparent. The writing is honest, passionate and unflinching, unsurprising when the subject matter is so serious. She wants to confront head-on the accident and her understanding and emotions, ‘let us see with the eyes we have unspared’ she says in ‘feline’. Not just her own eyes but searching in the eyes of an animal for the missing friend and that last image seen recorded in the eyes of the dead, a notion prevalent in early photography.

There is an urgency and rawness in this work that feels ‘away from’ the conformist Australian culture that produces much descriptive poetry unabe to take risks and truly engage. Canadian poet Jacqueline Turner, the inaugural poet-in-residence at the Judith Wright Centre of Contemporary Arts in Brisbane, described what she saw in the district around the arts centre, and drew attention to the visible over-protection  in all the prohibitions evident in Australian society: ‘no biking, no rollerblading, no skateboarding/no through road/no parking here….no pick-ups/no stopping/ no left turn….no trainspotting/no waving/ no stepping past yellow lines’ (from ‘Fortitude Valley’, Seven into Even 2006). 

Rose Hunter’s collection descansos maintains its focus in a way that allows the reader’s mind to follow many paths without losing direction. The subject is serious and the gaze unflinching and honest. Her ability to make language and image strange, ensures we look deeper. It does what good poetry does and tells us about ‘the moment, what is in front/ of us now’ (yogi).


how she spoke of the death, of that
you me creatures, memories

poised in their tunnels, calling the past
into question because the future

is not.
                                    (carpinteria)