Review by Mark William Jackson
Bukowski once said, ‘Don’t play with madness, madness doesn’t play.’ Likewise, don’t play with words unless you know what you’re doing. Stu Hatton knows what he’s doing.
Hatton is far from a straight writing skid row poet. Instead Hatton travels a drug fuelled transcendental journey. Random names for comparative discussion would include the Beats; Burroughs and Kerouac, New York Schooler Jim Carroll and contemporary Melbourne poet π.o. Hatton lashes across the page with a stream of consciousness furore.
A tip for the reader: Don’t try to understand everything in the first reading. Instead, read it at pace and let the images swirl and form in your mind. I’ve spent too long away from poetry to attempt a dissection of metre and rhyme, so my first reading was for pure enjoyment, and that’s what I got. And more — I got a kick-in-the-head reminder of why I love poetry so much.
How to be Hungry is Stu Hatton’s first collection and gathers his poems previously published in some of Australia’s best literary journals, including Overland, Otoliths, Page Seventeen, [untitled] and The Age newspaper.
The collection highlights the variety in Hatton’s work, with themes ranging from situational (unplugged, digitalia, sharps and A train, outbound), severe introspection (self-portrait (with wires, city, no clothes), and down slow), loss (the breaking), to psychoanalytical (the masculine) and observational (WA Notebook, Three Brett Whiteleys, Berlin and hands/office).
The poems in the collection come from a tortured voice. The breaking tells of the speaker sitting in a bar sharing drugs with friends and consciously trying not to think about the death of a friend ‘didn’t want to know / your whereabouts / how you were captured / what painkillers stomached / what beds caught you when you fell.’ The speaker throws himself further into the drug hazed wake until the image of the lost one returns (and the pronoun changes from the possessive to third person modifier) ‘& in her eyes, / death that pretty young thing, / saw a way in.’
This piece’s poignancy lies in the speaker continuing the habits that took the friend, and flows with the uncontrollable urge of an addict.
Unplugged takes us back into the mind of the addict, this time trying to recover. The image is created of a rehab centre, ‘the raw bed / no exits / air soured by puke’ and the fury of detox, ‘ever try a sprint lying down? / (it’s exhausting)’. The poem breaks with an asterisk then reprises with a sledgehammer three lines, ‘outside of visiting hrs / a squad of ghosts / makes another sweep’. As if the environment wasn’t bad enough, with no external exits, only nightmares reside within the mind.
Hatton’s observational talent is displayed in WA Notebook and Three Brett Whiteleys. WA Notebook is in six parts and documents the speaker’s travels through Western Australia as an Environmental protester. Part I coastal describes the ubiquitous Australian flags, hoisted since the Cronulla riots giving licence for Australian nationalism to mimic the redneck belt of the United States. ‘fuck off we’re full’ sticker / on a ute’s rear panel’ sets the scene.
Part II development assesses the futility of suburban existence, ‘impermeable, unstirred, unmoved / these lives go on regardless / city of satellites’. This theme continues in the standout section, part IV, the days write themselves, ‘Listen: is that a shot off the fairway / or a big bloke preparing to spit?’ The sounds of weekend suburban life. ‘There’ll be folks over at 5 / for champagne & nibbles’, the simple language reflecting the ordinariness of the social calendar.
Down slow exposes the speaker, ‘naked / beneath the drugs / this is what I am’, this exposure is reprised in the closing piece self-portrait (with wires, city, no clothes). Poetic etiquette dictates that one shouldn’t assume the speaker’s voice in a poem is that of the poet, however, titling a poem self-portrait disabuses that rule.
Hatton closes with a confession ‘i am open / and open / and open’, an honest stanza opens the piece that closes an honest collection. ‘You asked to see a photo, but / i asked for paper / to write on’. If you want to see the poet you must read his words. The close of the poem, and collection as a whole is whispered in parentheses ‘(i’m so glad / you could make it)’.
How to be Hungry is available through https://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/how-to-be-hungry/13213146