[In reviewing an archive of all the books I've reviewed, I found this, one of the very first ones written, which was on an old, now deleted, blog. I'm posting it here for posterity's sake, as Hattaway is an excellent poet, and I've thoroughly enjoyed all of his collections.]
Ross Hattaway: Pretending To Be Dead
Seven Towers, 2012, ISBN: 978-0-9571519-3-1
Ross Hattaway's second collection of poetry is a compelling and persuasive volume, dealing with the state of modern Ireland, human relationships, and the lamentable acts of war. Within such heady subjects, Hattaway mixes humour with pathos; careful not to mire the reader with misery, but to offer some comic relief. He is aware that life rarely contains singular visions, and the poems on display easily oscillate between wry cheekiness and reflective dirges.
In the three-part poem 'Killing My Husband', the speaker moves from revengeful bloodlust to sorrowful loneliness. Hattaway is careful to be equally attentive to all sides; indeed, the very issue of poetry is imitated in 'The Recoil':
Why do I record
this half life I live?
Because truth is an insistent bitch.
Without light, they are only versions.
Earlier on, the speaker states "Without truth, there is only witness". If a poet is considered to be a reporter on the world, then their words must be the carrier of truth and light. His 'Aisling' sequence reveals not so much Mother Ireland appealing to her brethren, but the children of Ireland having lost their way, penniless somehow and distracted from noble causes. The flippant answer offered up to all the nation's problems is to 'pretend to be dead'. Sometimes, truth is not always beautiful, and the ugly reality wins.
In 'Did You', a sequence of questions and answers highlights the futility of conflict, and feels that "the ordinary reality of freedom" failed to be conveyed to the people before violence took over. In much the same way that the aforementioned wife chooses to kill her husband, Hattaway despairs over death being the only answer given to the problematic question of existence; a theme extended on in his 'Songs for the Battle of Normandy'.
The poems themselves are mostly written in a clear, direct tone, usually with short meter to accentuate the punches. Hattaway is conversational and matter-of-fact, yet despite the bluntness, there is a tenderness to his speakers that hints at a greater wisdom than what the warmongers and politicians have to offer, a tenderness however often gained through hindsight. Elsewhere riffs on TVs chefs, single males as mating elephants and some self-aware tankas round off a collection that comes from conversing directly with life, full of honesty.