Glass by Rose Hunter
Five Islands Press, 2017
Glass is a collection of elegiac poems, a memoir of free verse about the poet’s travels through Mexico and her own debilitating ailment. The ‘you’ in book is addressed with a certain fondness (‘where are you / i feel of course now we would have the most wonderful conversation’) and an intimacy that suggests the poet is speaking to someone she was once romantically involved with:
thinking of things i had to tell you and what would you say and how you would laugh
The first poem ‘mixquic’ is addressed to ‘sean’, whom the book is also, in part, dedicated to: ‘for sean, again / for mum and dad’. The ‘you’ in the poems, it might be assumed, is Sean.
There are many allusions to Sean’s death. Whereas in ‘yellow’ Hunter makes reference – although not necessarily literal – to ‘cancers’, in ‘el edén’ Sean’s passing is the result of an accident:
magic wand bridge one-eyed fence canyon plunge buggy tiny flimsy that killed you
There is also a passage that expresses guilt about the death of an intimate partner – presumably Sean – from alcoholism:
then i will bathe you clothe you feed you wash the dishes hide the bottles take out the empties call the doctor tie you down. now i will reel you back from your brink.
Sean is the addressee of most of the poems and in this sense the book reads like a letter to the departed. Glass, however, is by no means epistolary in form or style:
(i would not interrupt say less backstory say cut to the chase say what is the point of this story or i would but that would be okay too)
Often Hunter’s verse is conversational, but certain passages are also lyrical, somewhat oneiric, and almost surrealist:
the dragon head on your chicken back turkey feet and cowrie legs. wattle dewlap quill cuttle ventricular, come i will dab you bib you we will be like the children we never were. show me your pony gait your ice cream cone fur and jester ears
Many of the poems, such as ‘bajío’, include uncredited epigraphs:
– the exhibition was about lost things you see. leashes slack on the ground.
Perhaps the epigraphs are fragments of overheard conversation, or words written by Hunter herself as ‘quotations’ of divergent voices or viewpoints. The epigraph in ‘bajío’ seems to suggest the existence of an escaped dog and, like most of the epigraphs in Glass, has an equivocal connection to the poem itself, which begins:
if we take a lobster for a walk well how to put that harness and can they even go on land and for how long? would they break their feet?
This passage, which could be observed as somewhat of a departure from personal narrative voice that continues more or less throughout the collection, brings to mind Gérard de Nerval, the nineteenth-century French poet who is said to have taken a lobster on a blue ribbon for a walk through Paris. Also, it is reminiscent in certain ways of Gabriel García Márquez. Hunter normalises the lobster on a leash with her conversational tone (‘can they even go on land … ?’) in much the same way as Márquez uses fairly ordinary language to describe fantastic occurrences. Hunter’s lobster on a leash is by no means physically implausible or as irrefutably surrealist as, say, García Márquez’s story ‘A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings’ in which an angel falls from the sky during a storm, but the two are comparable in their use of dry, pragmatic language that draws the reader into an imagined realm:
He argued that if wings were not the essential elements in determining the difference between a hawk and an airplane, they were even less so in the recognition of angels.
In Hunter’s poem, however, the fantasy lasts for less than a stanza before she flips into stream of consciousness:
[…] i ate squid dashed against the rocks with a specified promptness or precision or something for it to taste a certain way or something. […] look i have eaten lobster only twice and still don’t know what it tastes like.
Elsewhere in the book, Hunter’s recollections of Sean and Mexico are often nostalgic, but ‘bajío’ is decidedly unsentimental:
listen. if you are talking to a person on the street one day and the next day they go out and die like going for a hamburger or barbacoa [barbeque] like big deal they just go.
Hunter, particularly in the ‘brisbane’ chapter, also refers to her own encumbering illness: ‘we just don’t know why / i have dead legs’. At the same time, however, the speaker is incapable of forgetting Sean:
if i could go back to that day. i would do more than take a picture of you
Hunter’s use of form – the indented lines, the large gaps within the lines, the relentless enjambment – is central to her stream of consciousness style. In ‘wickham terrace’, among other poems, the sentences are enjambed not only over lines and stanzas, but also over numbered sections:
i. […] my father whistles through his teeth lifts one foot, then the other touches his hand to his mouth, his glance a thrown bus. time ii. is lost no matter how you lived it
The rarity of end-stopped lines and the way in which Hunter positions the sentences across the page accentuates the free associative design of her syntax. When end-stopped lines are included (‘did they not fight enough / did they not love enough’) they are all the more forceful. The fact that Hunter uses enjambment across numbered sections and their respective page breaks and the way she often begins poems with ‘and’ or ‘or’ contribute to the impression that even though there are 21 poems divided into three chapters (‘mexico city’, ‘jalisco’, and ‘brisbane’) Glass in many ways reads like one extended poem. The extent to which Glass is autobiographical is of course irrelevant, but the personal and somewhat regretful tone that pervades the collection make the poems nearly always compelling.