Claire Stewart reviews Benito di Fonzo

7 December 2004

Her, leaving, as the Acid hits by Benito Di Fonzo
Independence Jones, 2004

The first thing that struck me when reading 'Her, leaving, as the Acid hits' was that it embodied, like the muse of the story, a lament of an era long gone. Di Fonzo has successfully recreated the zeitgeist of the pre-gentrification time of cosy inner city dwellings before real estate went up and the well worn homes that gave these areas their character went down to make way for sterile, so-called architecturally designed apartments.

All the nostalgic elements are there: the sticky brown carpet of the friendly local, the kitsch and cosy comforts of the shared house, the kitsch and cosy comforts of the horrible carpet that lined many floors in homes build before 1960, the bulk rubbish furnishings, the mix of dubious housemates, Sonic Youth, bands that never made it beyond the lounge room and, of course, the acid, which was in abundance throughout the nineties but now days is as common as diamonds in horseshit.

Added to this equation is the revelation of the complete fragility of the ending of a live-in relationship which is amplified further by a drug experience the protagonist was reluctant to partake in. Should he go against his better judgment and save face in front of his friends or miss out on the opportunity of free drugs?

This free verse poem begins in a Newtown pub, where the narrator is offered acid by a man he takes a strong dislike to for reasons he later reveals in the poem. Rather than biting the hand that is literally feeding him, he succumbs to peer pressure, as one does. While his friends and girlfriend are willing participants, he is dwelling over the possible backyard origins of the substance he is about to consume, a sign that perhaps he has grown up and is ready to move on.

di Fonzo then takes us back and forth within his endless streams of consciousness, attempting to rationalise the plethora of thoughts that he cannot control at the same time as being pragmatic over the amount of damage that he could possibly do to his mind (” … we only use ten percent of our heads anyway … “).

It is through delving into the vignettes of former associates and the faux friends he allows himself to become negatively influenced by, which are as witty and ironic as they are tragic, that Di Fonzo's narrative style really shines. One of these friends is G, who attempted suicide after drinking port and slashing his wrists in the bath, only to be saved by the dropping temperature of the water, the alcohol easing the blood flow and his incessant craving for nicotine:

“Just think,
if it wasn't for cigarettes
he'd be dead.”

As the author states in oxymoronic terms, G later relocated to Tasmania “[T]o fully experience non-existence”, which helps to explain his faint apology in the disclaimer to those residing in the Apple Isle. Then there is the double entendre of the acid being branded with the Superman logo. Will he be the Nietzchean version or the Christopher Reeve version? It is a joke that does not go down too well with his soon to be ex-girlfriend. It is an ironic statement nonetheless; that the actor who played the cartoon hero on the big screen was later rendered a quadriplegic:

” … just hoping that the cultural reference point isn't an omen.”

Unfortunately, for the protagonist at least, it was. And it gets darker from then on.

What is particularly remarkable about this poem is Di Fonzo's successful recreation of the atmospheric scenery of the early nineties without descending into cliches and making the dialogue seem contrived and vacuous. The poem is much more than just a drug experience and a broken heart. It touches on the sense of loss, not just of a relationship but of a bygone era of youth, somewhere to where we never can return.

Yet it appears to look back on fond terms despite his experiences. It is a vignette for the tokens of youth of which we all hold dear to ourselves. They may not necessarily always be pleasant ones but we wear them like badges of honour, for they have made us what we are today. Not to mention that any drug experience, either negative or positive, is always a good conversation piece.

'A Letter By Way Of Apology To My Liver' is one of two poems at the appendix of this book and something that any binge drinker can relate to. Using the binary opposition of the body and soul with the liver and the self respectively, it is an ode to the damage one does to oneself through intoxication with somewhat regret that our body's individual organs are separate entities that feel the pain in the same manner we do.

Through the hedonism, one actually feels guilty and empathises with the organs that they are putting through a beating, which appears relevant considering that in the same way we only have one love in our life, we also only have one liver. The narrative reads like a lovers tiff between a partner who wants to stay in and the other who wants to go out, yet both will pay dearly for the experience. (” … [the] toxic home brew that in the mourning always hurt me as much as it hurt you”).

The plays on words in this piece are witty and beautiful (“[W]e consumed enough wine to turn a Venetian blind”). It makes us revise over why we partake in an activity that costs us physically and financially. Is it worth it and why do we keep doing it?

Liver I know I've been cruel,
I've had the gall to use you
as little more
than a well lived-in tool
for the odd glow of
faux enlightenment.

But Liver,
Where will I be on that fateful day
That cirrhosis turns you into
Little more than No Frills pate?

“So, Liver, don't be livid
let's just drink and make up,
and never, ever
fight again”

Continuing from the theme of the previous poems, 'The Perfect Local' is a utopian vision of the ideal pub. From sheer self indulgent and hedonistic requests that one can't take seriously (drugs and alcohol will beneficial to one's health) to those which would be highly desirable (no sport on the TV screens, the nearby residents not complaining about the noise) it makes us wonder why everything we like hurts us so and why we spent time in such seemingly inhospitable places.

I really enjoyed this collection of poems. Di Fonzo has hit the nail on the head on the subjects of loss and yearning where other contemporary poets have missed the mark. When he is next in Perth he is more than welcome to come down with me to my inner city local, and yes, I will be paying.

Claire Stewart possesses a BA in French and Anthropology. She is also a check out chick and life model who is currently studying Website Design.

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