Staff Book Reviewer Spencer Dew is the author of the forthcoming novel Maintain (Ampersand Books, 2012). A regular reviewer for Rain Taxi Review of Books, Dew is the author of Songs of Insurgency (Vagabond Press, 2008), Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres (Another New Calligraphy, 2010), and the critical study Learning for Revolution: The Work of Kathy Acker (San Diego State University Press, 2011). His Web site is spencerdew.com.
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Rebar twisted out of jagged concrete, or a girl in a “parrot dress” “perched” at a bar, “The bar you go to,” the name of which “means hidden,” in some vernacular like the vernacular cracked open here, its marrow booze and “hillbilly twang,” as one character says, an expat, in Mexico, explaining how to pronounce his name “as though coon or coot or billy / cart hound-dog gator.” This is where Rose Hunter takes us,
slouching towards, no, stumbling,
towards, along, overexposed
cobblestones; one gringo dive bar
after another and never stop,
TV fuzz and desiccated predictions:
when will be the first day of rain?
and the angiomas, carcinomas, fatty livers,
inflamed lungs, what stupid fuckers—
look what we’ve done to ourselves
Yes, this is that Mexico, a state of being as well as a nation state—and a state of linguistic liminality as well. “Or, how in Manzanillo,” one poem begins, mid-thought, mid-journey, “all those red crates: Hamburg Süd.” There follow lines about objects, things, pieces of, to quote part of the poem’s title “Long Haul Cargo Transport.” This is Mexico full of broke-down men and the women who perch near them in bars, a Mexico where even “icing from the piping bag” is seen as a “kind of syringe.”
“The Sierra Madres are right there / past the razor wire and roof dogs,” writes Rose Hunter, with the vein-opening grace that characterizes this remarkable little book, a book about “chewing gum, rebar and me / in shorts and best, threadbare T-shirt / smokestacks and windows of the church / arches and the clock; 11:20.”
At times the book is almost too personal, with some passages keeping readers at arm’s length, unable as they are to remember “how / in Melaque / swimming after midnight . . . with the man whose name / I can’t remember,” or any number of such scenes and fragments of scenes, but then the whole tone turns, like the tide it describes, like a phone number recurring, suddenly, without prompt, in memory, or like a reliquary split open to reveal a sacred tooth, a shard of old bone:
I can now tell the arches
of the wrecked hotel
the Casa Grande—
tidal-wave gutted, graffiti-
tagged but still bared-teeth-
guarded, its rooted rows
through the crossbar gates.
And Hunter achieves, again and again, an absolutely surprising effect, like something hatching in your throat and then you falling love with that thing when it flies out, so beautiful, so new: “and to cut to the chase / you are there with your red / bottle you are there with your red bottle.” In another register:
The spindle exposed
and nothing else for it, anymore;
Or, I am to myself, a person
doing laundry, after work, which is
the best person
I’ve been in a long time
It is regrettable that this book was self-published: editorial eyes and suggestions would have helped to perfect the sharp shock of these pages. But do not misunderstand me: there is shit here that will punch you in the face or cradle you in its arms or inject you with whatever metaphor you need with a need you can’t even articulate but that cannot be denied. Whoever Rose Hunter is, this poet publishing her own collection, she’s got skill that will make you taste blood and check your teeth to be sure the teeth are still there and still yours. Publishers: if you do not now reach out to and contact this writer, Rose Hunter, and try to get her manuscripts and try to put them out in polished fashion, like a crisply developed and well-framed photograph of jagged concrete bleeding rebarb against the Sierra Madres and the sky, then, publishers, you are fools. Here is a book that takes epic narratives of love and travel and reduces them to the absolutely necessary words, a book that takes the few words on the side of a bottle and expands them into an epic narrative of love and travel. Witness:
White on red Oso Negro
Destilado 100% de Grano
38% Alc. Vol. CONT. NET.
the black bear, the red halo
the abuse of this product
is damaging to your health
Salud, I say. And here’s to the next book by Rose Hunter. I’ll take a double.
Official Rose Hunter Web Site