A review of Antimatter by Hugh Hazelton

Published on April 1, 2003

Hugh Hazelton

Broken Jaw Press

It’s astonishing and somewhat alarming what can pass for poetry under the auspices of spoken word. Just add a beat, some lofty instrumentals, and you can get away with almost anything – it has so much to do with attitude, with the sound of your voice, and nothing with what is being said. At least that’s what I’ve garnered from the few readings and open mic nights to which I’ve been (maybe not the best measure of judgement), and the mere thought of spoken word incited a tolerant roll of the eyes. So it was with some hesitancy that I encountered Antimatter by Hugh Hazelton.

Arguably there is poetry to be read on the page which is separate from the kind of poetry meant to be heard, but looming overhead is the determination of whether it’s even poetry at all.

Hugh Hazelton’s Antimatter is a duet for book and DC, and the writing is particularly unique: …a
stands for is
an arbitrary or conventional sign

Hazelton’s work is attention-getting, highly political, and raw. It aims to show the repression, oppression, and violence in society, and does so by bombarding the reader with image after image of left-wing anti-capitalist post-colonial lines like these:

let a 305-foot-high copper-plated statue
of a neoclassical female figure
with a radiating metal halo
be a … material symbol patriotic symbol
nascent national mythology symbol
presented by
one empire conquering AfricanIndochina

I would think that Hazelton’s experience with French, Spanish, and Portuguese translation might have resulted in more attention to the nuance of words. While not without its smug charm and catchy turns of phrase (like “scatalogical gotterdammerung”), the haphazard line breaks and action-packed material are best suited to performance. Even so, the recording bears such predictable resemblance to the page that it sounds much like a straight reading.

The book jacket states that poetry should “bite, caress, stroke, laugh at, confront, lament, name, imagine, envision, remember, invoke, counterattack, and reflect.” Antimatter certainly runs the gamut, but whether it’s poetry or anti-poetry I’ll leave for you to decide. mRb

Adrienne Ho's poetry chapbook Murmurs was published by Junction Books in 2001.



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