Never has a book of poetry made my stomach swirl so consistently. Meat Lovers delights in creating other-wordly imagery, pulling sweet and sour together to inspire a half-repulsed and half-elated reaction.
feet stickening with the squelch of tar
bubbled on the main road
In my time reading, I often felt that I was teetering on a tightrope strung between dream and nightmare. In Rebecca Hawkes’ first collection, she illustrates her expertise in juxtaposition, interweaving farm-lands, rural infrastructure, superstitious subject matter, and human longing.
The book is split in half by sections that create the title’s portmanteau—Meat and Lovers. Meat explores coming-of-age in Canterbury farmland, as well as coming-to-terms-with the bizarre, yet homely environment that surrounds the author.
It opens with a flashforward in ‘The Flexitarian’, where the author visits the PORK aisle of a supermarket and “fondles” the sheets of pig skin in plastic packaging, meeting the animal at the end of the production line.
It then moves to consider a core childhood memory in ‘Help Yourself’, scarfing down sugary lollies from supermarket bins. It is a cathartic reflection on the pinching of pretty treats from plastic tubs—and the stomach ache that follows soon after. More childhood rumination follows these opening poems, gravitating towards the country. ‘Sighting’, quoted earlier, catalogues a wander down a melting country road, while ‘Pony club summer camp’ and ‘The Protagonists’ contemplates early formative friendships and the coming of consciousness through the first school years.
Then, Hawkes focus shifts to the farm, employing different lenses to describe and ponder the things that make the space harsh, kind, and overwhelming. ‘Waif & stray’ clearly encapsulates this mix, where a girl sits and tenderly feeds a flock of lambs, while acknowledging that one will not live. ‘Sparkling bucolic’ forces cottagecore dreaming into a reality, as the writer is “up to the elbow in it” during the birth of a calf. The poem is brutal and exhausting, and there’s no longing for the countryside left after reading.
The final poem within Meat refuses to cower away from brutality yet again, with the title ‘Hardcore pastorals’. I do find myself slightly squeamish in this final piece, though it does hold a few lines that stuck with me throughout the rest of the book. The writer reflects on a trip through the country, and highlights how their driver can’t stand the realities of the landscape.
you are stuck behind a cattle truck
the ammonia stench of calf panic
from the slatted trailer so potent
your girlfriend punches the aircon to recirculate
unwilling to even breathe the evidence
This is the ugliness of Meat that is so impactful, with Hawkes placing a personal stake in this landscape to draw the reader in close.
In the second half of the collection, Lovers, the focus shifts, but the pieces are no less visceral. There’s exploration of love across long distance, uncertain intimacy, and the turbulence of revisiting old relationships. There’s a little more humour to be found in this half of the book, though it doesn’t completely lose its darkness, with some chuckles found in brutal honesty. The farm is never too far away either, surfacing in moments that are overwhelming. It gives the collection a cohesion that is entrancing.
‘Werewolf in the girls’ dormitory’ pulls on old literary traditions to explore othering, revisiting vulnerable, painful moments to find some catharsis. ‘Barbecue mirage’ is tense and sexy, retelling intimate contact across a picnic table on a hot summer day. ‘Poem about my heart’ is probably the most stripped back in the collection, disturbingly sweet in its imagery and sentiment.
Gird your loins for Meat Lovers. It’s inventive, cheeky, and raw—and, if read in one sitting, will leave you feeling sickly satisfied.
A hypnotising collection of poems, bursting with horror, gore, lust, and longing.