This review is long overdue, but for good reason. I loved this book, and in order to write a good review, I had to read and re-read, write and re-write. I wanted to write a review that captured Rose Hunter’s unique way of sewing metaphors about relationships into one beautiful emotional landscape. Now that I’m writing a final draft, though, I know that none of my words about this book can compare to the author’s peripatetic, unaffected style of writing.
Description of a troubled relationship starts in the first poem of the first section, of which there are six. In this poem, “You As International Transfer Lounge,” Hunter closes by speaking of “lights on the runway like butter like / on the stairs waiting for you / the alley a waterfall: cascade // you wouldn’t even take my hand. / But I had plans for when I got you inside. / I was prepared to clean your pants. / But then you started the dts.” This poem is very important: it introduces themes like drinking, traveling, and relationships, and it also questions if one can withstand a modern life in which all three are fraught with peril.
In the coming sections, Hunter speaks of drugstores where “you bought the wine / twist top like a gas cap, and wading pool edges / wrapped in plastic.” In “You As Invasive Exotic,” the author chooses a carp to describe a damaged relationship: “meathead carp / slamming weights and bulging carotids / mealy mouthed carp. Pectoral / fin fans and tail arrows // missile carp.” In these two poems, Hunter chooses her metaphors well.
The writing becomes even stronger as the book continues. Hunter uses her environs as a backdrop for her partner’s drinking problem. Sometimes Hunter’s use of metaphor is subtle and other times it is direct, as in “You As A Snake,” in which she writes, “ignoring warning sign(s) / like cardiomyopathy fatty liver / hepatitis, the look on your face / you said you look four.” In “You As Tunnel,” Hunter states, “I wait for you to pick me up // like a mop or dirty bed sheet.” The space between those two lines catches the reader off guard.
Even though this book tackles a heavy subject, there are many moods to the poems inside. In “You As Corpse,” located in section IV of the book, Hunter describes the smell of her dead lover: “the spongy mishmash / firewheeling mold and jumblecloth / red, carp mouth, crocodile tongue // the pallor of the fridge like a dog.” There is something humorous, at least to this reader, about the use of language. That humor is apparent in poems with titles like “You As Slots-A-Fun” and “You As Paper Cup.” Other titles, such as “You As Botanical Gardens” and “You As Sound” presage a stark beauty. Throughout the book, however, the reader learns to be hyper-aware of the book’s poetic surroundings, lest they miss the multifaceted nature of the writing.
In “You As Fierce Inhabitant of Brackish Water,” the second-to-last poem in this collection, Hunter returns, in a slant way, to the metaphor of an “invasive exotic” when she says, “Extinction events: your talk of all the people / who’ve died, your infernal last man crawling / a bit stronger than a shark, stronger by far / than a bear.” This passage brings to a close the central theme in the book: a relationship with someone who has a drinking problem eloquently turned into art. It is clear, though, that the author knows of no easy solution to this situation.
You As Poetry by Rose Hunter is a polyphonic and sensitive book that invites many readings. Hunter’s poetry is not one tone, and joy is hidden in pages that deal with a serious subject. You should read this book. You will be overwhelmed with how simple turns of phrase can invite layers of elucidation. You will not be disappointed.