Fully Clothed and So Forgetful by Hannah Mettner.
Wellington: VUP (2017).
RRP: $25. Pb, 91pp.
Reviewed by Shelley Chappell.
Hannah Mettner’s poems have been widely published in literary journals. A Gisborne-raised, Wellington-based poet, she is co-editor of Sweet Mammalian, an online poetry journal launched in 2014 with the intention of broadening the diversity of poetic voices and styles in New Zealand publications. Fully clothed and so forgetful is Mettner’s first book of poetry.
The forty-eight poems in this collection are candid poems which illustrate distinct moments in time and connections between people. They are sensual and sexual and sometimes confronting.
Written in free verse, Mettner’s style shows a strong impetus for narrative and prose interspersed with occasional rawness and rare moments of pretty imagery, as in “The Love Poem” (pp 65-66), which describes ‘fainting canaries everywhere like the falling petals of sunflowers’ (p 66).
The collection starts with the poem from which the title is taken, “Higher ground” (pp 11-12), a poem which appears to offer a metaphor for life. It describes the ‘piles of stones/for loved ones we have lost/on the way to the top’, and how we climb them dreaming of the:
pond at the top where sun-
carp clean our feet and where
we can sleep. The steps are one of
the beautiful mysteries of
life, like how did we get here,
fully clothed and so forgetful?
What follows are poems about family – parents, grandparents, siblings, cousins and children – which invoke love and affection while maintaining a resolute avoidance of nostalgia and sentiment. Whether they are personal poems or reflect the views of fictional narrators, they invite the reader into an intimate family environment. We read of the inconsequential and the too consequential moments with loved ones – of gardening and “[h]aving a smoke with … uncles” (p 25), of teenage pregnancy and family ghosts, of coming out. The subsequent poems about friends and lovers are also intimate, with raw sexual frankness balanced by linguistic cleverness, as in “Gender Buttons” (p 67).
In an interview with Loren Baxter published on mobile storytelling platform, STQRY, Mettner describes her poems as ‘messy and dirty and emotional and kitsch and witchy’. On their website, Sweet Mammalian writes of promoting ‘poetry that comes out of the complex, the absurd, the warm-blooded’. Mettner’s poems are all of these things.
Shelley Chappell is a literary analyst and writer of fantasy fiction and fairy tale retellings for children and young adults. She is the author of Beyond the Briar: A Collection of Romantic Fairy Tales (2014) and a variety of short stories.