Rebecca Hawkes is a Canterbury farm-girl through and through. Her experiences with animals ooze through the pages of deftly constructed poetry that speaks to the experiences within us all:
“Kicked out of Countdown for kneeling
at the pick ‘n’ mix to sneak sweets
from the lidded bins as my mother
deliberated on fresh produce, weighing apples
with her hand while I chased the scent of false fruit esters.”
(Help Yourself: Rebecca Hawkes)
Allowing oneself to be emerged in the imagery is to be transported to the sights and sounds and experiences of the farm life: the good, the bad, and the downright dirty.
“It’s not real cottagecore unless you’re up to the elbows in it
blindly groping down the blood-slick canal”
(Sparkling bucolic: Rebecca Hawkes)
But it is the realism that ultimately provides the majesty of the writing, the presentation of real life is both raw and freeing. There is a beauty in the depths of the natural world that Hawkes has managed to find and extract from the sequences.
You can feel part of the experience, both in the first half of the work - the ‘meat’ section - as much as the latter - the ‘lovers’ section. Poems such as ‘Hardcore pastorals’ operate as if an epic ode to the meat industry that almost oscillates between the interactions between humans and the natural world. Later in the selection, a more mellencollic approach pervades the poems as the introspection of Hawkes comes to the fore.
In ‘Barbecue mirage’ the figure of a pavlova or ‘national meringue’ acts as a kind of symbolic homage to the trials and tribulations of the kiwi lifestyle and expectations around the national pastime that is a barbecue. It’s clever and witty critique of social expectation is both engaging and poignant.
Even in the ‘lovers’ section of the collection, never far away is the homage to the connection to farm life and, specifically, cows. Mince & Cheese, for example, is a great exploration of this connection.
Overall, a really thought provoking selection of finely crafted and lyrical poetry that captures so much of the psyche of the farming community in new and inventive ways, as well as providing an insight into the deep emotional and observational qualities of Hawkes herself. It’s beautifully written, engaging and so vivid in its inventiveness and imagery.
Reviewer: Chris Reed
Auckland University Press