Pighog, 2007 - £6.00 + £2.00 p&p
Hugh Dunkerley’s Fast is a very smartly produced pamphlet with a dramatic drawing of a bird’s skull on the front. The elegant gloominess of the artefact matches the tone of the writing within its covers.
The title poem is a sympathetic tribute to an Australian woman called Verity Linn, who starved herself to death while following the doctrines of the Breatharians (not ‘Breatherians’, as the pamphlet’s typo has it). Members of this cult believe that humans can survive while consuming nothing but air and sunlight; their guru, Jasmuheen (née: Ellen Greve), of Australia has proposed propagation of the doctrine as a solution to world starvation. Mr Dunkerley writes almost enviously of the “exaltation of hunger” that Ms. Linn’s starvation brought:
When the last agonies came, the muscles
the organs, consuming themselves in a final blaze,
what a purification it must have seemed.
Death and abnegation pervade these poems. Mr Dunkerley is drawn to the “flattened rats” in a natural history museum and the “boneless ghosts/ of dried cod” in a Japanese supermarket. A woman’s period is seen as mass slaughter:
Every month your womb coughs them out,
these unmanned craft, adrift in a sea of blood,
bulletins from the body’s dream of resurrection.
Not that resurrection is much to desire—a poem about the misery of revived Lazarus (“as white as a tuber/ still filthy from the grave”) suggests that returning has not been worth the trouble.
Mr Dunkerley’s diction is precise, and his stanzas are neat; his poems have resonance; but their emotional range is starkly limited. In the last poem of the pamphlet he finally loses his virginity, but instead of running round the house punching the air in triumph, he moodily cogitates:
I’d been inside a woman,
looking down at myself,
the raw part of me
still sluiced in her wetness.
I had given something away;
a wholeness that had finally been breached.
Many may find such sentiments difficult to identify with, but readers attuned to Mr Dunkerley’s emotional wavelength may feel differently.
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