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Reviewed by Natalya Newman
Opening sentence
‘I am trying to go vegetarian but finding myself weak, / week to week browsing the meat aisle at a linger / close enough to chill my arms to gooseflesh’
Meat Lovers by Rebecca Hawkes is an enthralling and grotesque collection of poetry in two parts, ‘Meat’ and ‘Lovers’. Published in 2022 by Auckland University Press, Hawkes explores her upbringing on a farm, luring readers along with her to pastures, slaughterhouses and supermarkets.

‘with a promise that it would bring me love / and yet my heat-treated citrine loses its vibrance / in the glittish glare of direct sunshine’

In ‘Meat’, Hawkes guides the readers through her poetry with imagery potent enough that I could almost smell fat sizzling and hay caught in manes. Hawkes’ writing style pulls readers in like a wasp drawn to honey, lured in by the sticky sweetness of her words and then trapped by the detailed and sometimes sickening descriptions. This poetry collection felt like it was consuming me while I read it, but I couldn’t help but continue until the end.

Meat Lovers combined the harsh and soft elements of life on a farm, describing love and childhood imagination alongside blood and infestation. The contrast between the two halves of the collection, ‘Meat’ and ‘Lovers’, served to highlight the similarities between the perceived ‘good’ and ‘bad’.

‘my faceless benefactor asks what I am looking for / but I just want what all women want / if not vengeance in cold blood / then at minimum / a bargain’

Something that intrigues me about this collection is the way it explores the more animalistic side of humanity, the way we connect so easily with other living creatures like the social creatures we evolved to be. Hawkes’ way of delving into the connection between humans and animals is interesting because it doesn’t focus only on the positive aspects. She acknowledges the ugly sides of humanity as well as the good. This sharp contrast makes her poetry even more intriguing, because it keeps me on my toes, wondering what feeling and message the next poem will leave me with.

‘through a slit in the corrugated iron / the moon is bright pumice bobbing in a dark bathtub / I want to shuck off my gumboots and scrub my feet on it’

The cover of this book is detailed and slightly overwhelming at first. The border is a cool mint and blue tone that draws attention to the two women sitting on the cow, showing the main theme of the second half of the book, ‘Lovers’. Warm fleshy tones are used in the food swarming the bottom section of the cover, intermixed with dark green and beige. The combination of warm and cool colours on this cover is almost unsettling, as most of the pinks resemble the colour of raw meat. It was the cover that first drew me to this book - I was intrigued by the illustrations and the ghostly, painterly style of the art. In an amazing display of skill, Rebecca Hawkes is both the author and illustrator of Meat Lovers. Hawkes uses the cover to show the two parts of the book, ‘Meat’ and ‘Lover’, and enthrals potential readers just like the poetry does.

‘this is the only responsible form of tenderness: / hands limp with trust in each other's mouths / but rehearsing secret reflexes just in case’

The ability for a poetry collection to completely immerse me in a world of the poet’s creation is something I have always admired in the poetry collections I have experienced. Hawkes does a masterful job at drawing readers in and surrounding us with sharp imagery, vivid experiences and grounded sensations. This is a collection of poetry that immersed me from the moment I opened it, and even from the front cover I was hooked.

‘they rotate slowly with your every exhale/ as though you could still move them even if/ you can’t quite reach from here’

Meat Lovers presents a huge variety of poems and themes, ranging from ‘Mad Butcher’s love song’ and ‘Death Imperative’, to ‘Pink fairy armadillo’ and ‘Peach Teats’. Hawkes uses contrast and a range of atmospheres to keep readers guessing and turning the page, wondering what they will find next. This really shows the breadth of Hawkes’ poetic abilities and how versatile her writing is.

‘your children’s fingers softened with pale ash and pricked / by incandescent laments like witches’ spindles’

I would recommend this enthralling and grotesque collection of poetry to anyone who enjoys a touch of the unknown, and is interested in poetry grounded in the animalistic and raw side of humanity. If you’re interested in poetry that grounds you in the experience of being human and surrounds you with crisp, vibrant memories, I wholeheartedly recommend ‘Meat Lovers’ by Rebecca Hawkes.

- Natalya is 18 and is studying at uni in Wellington.
Publisher: Auckland University Press
ISBN: 9781869409630
Format: Paperback
Publication: 2022
Ages: 15+
Themes: Poetry, Life and Death, Young Adult