Wednesday, 10 October 2012

Dreams of a Girl in New England: A Review of 'Meat' by Erin Reardon

As I look to get most of what I've done available at this blog, it's time to look at one of my favourite poets of recent years, Erin Reardon.

This is a review I published at Parasitic a few years back, about here book 'Meat'. I'm sure you can still buy it if you ask nicely.

Remember you can buy my book, 'Stumbles and Half Slips', from HERE.

“I’m not a spinner of saccharine sticky love poems” asserts Erin Reardon, in this chapbook collection of poetry. That’s not entirely true. There is definitely love poetry here, and it’s occasionally sticky. The stickiness is, however not caused by anything sugary sweet and innocent.

Various bodily fluids trickle across the pages of ‘Meat’. The fluids one associates with sex, violence, heartbreak and over-indulgence. There is a coarseness in the poems that’s actually delightful, Reardon relishing dirty details like the girl in infant school showing her septic scabs to the boys. Reardon is very definitely a girl though, coarse not so she can be one of the boys but rather to shock them from time to time.

This is very female poetry, but there are no tales of sugar and spice and all things nice. Rather, there are gin addled hangover mornings where the narrator is “vomiting the last/Of [her] rancid soul”, using the diet pills for “too many toots” not to fit into a wedding dress in time. The self-loathing is of a different stamp to the kind in Sunday magazines.

There is much more here than just girls behaving badly bodily function though, and to dismiss these erudite and musical poems as simply Beat inspired lifestyle shock smears would be to severely underestimate the depth, subtlety and shade that the work possesses.

The speaker of the poems can be predatory, hunting the male in as deadly a fashion as the girl in the Scott Walker song, but this is no ‘Sex & the City’ vapid status fuck search, but rather a need as desperate as any crackhead’s with an underlying vulnerability that does not so much feminise the hunt as humanise it. Reardon shines a spotlight on the unpretty hunger in all our souls for love or its approximation, and the inevitable disappointment and regret that ensues.

As she writes in ‘Autumnal Equinox’ they will always let you down. “He’ll lure you in with flowers…pretend he’s got a pussy too/Push your buttons of fidelity/’Til you’re squealing at the moon”, the supposed devotion driving the girl mad. ‘Acquiescence’, with its refrain of “What kind of man are you?” explores similar territory, it’s lines “when she reaches out to cradle you/And you bite her on the tit” reflecting the place we all end up in eventually, the place where the wires don’t cross properly anymore and the sparks are damp fizzles. The place where everything is mere functionality, the fulfilling of procedure described in ‘Gangrene Prophylactic’: “I will squat/On your erection/Just so you can hear me say/I need you.”

Obsession and addiction are recurring themes. Addiction not just to chemicals natural and synthesised, but also to hope and optimism, often embodied in a sick fascination with the boys who disappoint the speaker time and again as she reaches for the bottle, pill jar or syringe that can help to bleed their “medical caress from memory”. Addiction to the hope they bring, “She hated her skin/Until/It found his.” (Eating Matches) But they always leave her let down and seeking solace.

The kind of solace often found by religious faith, and Reardon’s Roman Catholic education casts an obsessive shadow of worship and abasement over many of the poems. Questions to mothers and fathers, both earthly and divine, are stamped out, the lies of their “communion wafer tongues” refuted and their roles challenged. The humiliation inherent in such abasement/worship is explored too, and the theme of a Virgin ruined by Christ Reborn recurs throughout. As she says in ‘Glory Be’, “if I can’t trust the word of Christ reborn…Who can I trust?”

At times, there is almost a twisted desire to be humiliated, Reardon’s narrator seemingly reaching the conclusion that there’s only one thing worse than having someone humiliate you and that’s having no one humiliate you. “We was born to be abused” she despairingly decides in ‘Born Into It’.

But it would be to mislead the reader to imply that this was a blood and cum, menstrual heart fuck bitch drama circus. There is much hope and beauty here too. The hope found in the eyes of the doomed boys and the steps of the dancing girls that dream above the vomit puddles and the broken glass.

This beauty can be found in ‘Black Coffee’ with its “blessed blue jay shrieks/Among the trees, a new bud lingering…Tranquil as we knew how”, or in ‘Centred’ with its “heart/As heavy as a boulder/Haunted by…love”. Throughout, a wistful regret at all the trauma and wasted days hangs on the shoulder of the narrator, best summed up in the closing poem ‘The Best Days’ with its Eleanor Rigby references and closing lines “my best days/I’m still waiting/For them/To begin” which provides a fittingly melancholy ending to a skilfully written and craftily sensitive chapbook, the sadness seasoning the coarse, vocal “Boston-Irish” clamour with a sweet beauty and dark longing.

This meat is pink and cooked to perfection, its “sulfur taste” definitely one to be savoured. Get thyself to a butcher’s.

Originally published at:

Zack Wilson is the author of  'Stumbles and Half Slips', available from Amazon HERE.

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