This is a poetry collection by a performance poet whose work performs just as well on the page as it does on the stage.
Hannah Chutzpah is a self-named poet, which name demonstrates both her delight in words (Hannah) and her activism as ‘potential maggot thrower’ (Chutzpah). As she says in the poem ‘A dude in an East London pub has just out-Jewed me’, she is half-Jewish, half-American and bisexual. She is what every poet with something to say needs to be: on the outside looking in – sometimes wishing to be on the inside, sometimes pointing out to those on the inside how unacceptable, weird or just plain naff their behaviour looks like from out there. It is a brave place to live one’s life.
I first heard Chutzpah at a three-woman Edinburgh try-out gig in deepest Hackney some years ago. I was impressed, so I bought her pamphlet Butterfly Wings, where some of these poems were first published, and watched others develop on Facebook. When I heard this full collection was out I was keen to review it (not least because I lost the pamphlet in a move) and it is as good as I hoped.
The title of the collection is taken from the idea of roots working their way down through Maslow’s hierarchy of five needs (food and shelter, safety, love, esteem, and self-actualisation). While the collection certainly travels through all the five levels, I’m not sure the poems are always in the right level. You might have fun re-allocating them. I did, although it was a surprisingly complex task. Chutzpah says about the decision to include the Hierarchy ‘”Millennials” have been raised with a lot of insecurity around the basics of jobs and housing. It doesn’t always stop us, but it often erodes us.’ This is becoming increasingly true, making Permeable an important (and definitely quotable) book for the way we live now.
Here are some of the highlights: ‘This is your Twenties’ in the first section about food and shelter, drives forward like Auden’s ‘This is the night mail’: it deals with the constant relocation by a whole generation of ‘urban nomads’ looking for the ‘scraps of jobs going’, upping sticks, cats, plants and lighters, ‘And you think you might be doing this wrong.’ Your whole life can be fitted into a transit van, you flit between flats, all the time looking for The One – the good job ‘with a pension scheme/You’ll actually use/Or the person you’ll grow old with.’ ‘Tumbleweeds’ expands on that idea:
‘They said we could be
Tall as redwoods
Bright as autumn maples
Bold as monkey puzzles
But to survive
We are learning to be tumbleweeds.’
Two more of my favourites from this first section are ‘Job Centre’, ‘Blood, Bone, Bowel, Brain, Breast’, about working at a cancer charity, and ‘Fairy rings’, which is a modern take on the way a London borough can be Unsafe, moving through OK and Cool to Unaffordable in the time it takes to get settled in a new flat.
In the second section, acquiring safety enables the poet to play ‘Shithead Bingo’. You can play it too: the instructions are very clear. ‘Too Good to be True’ has been true for me many times. Does ‘Platters of praise you never knew you were hungry for’ speak to your own experience?
From the ‘love’ section I pull out ‘Tetris (as a Relationship Analogy)’ and ‘Necrokitty Comic Sans’ which titles are so good in themselves you wonder what the poet could possibly add, but she mines the analogies deeply. In this section is also the clever ‘In Tents’.
In the ‘self-esteem’ section the poet lets her readers see how raw some of this emotion is. ‘Snakeskin’ resonated particularly with me.
‘Self-actualisation’ contains, perhaps unsurprisingly, some complex poems of which my favourite is ‘Butterflies’.
This really is poetry for a Millennial generation: if you are that generation it will speak to you. If you are older than that (as I am) it will help you understand what today’s young adults are going through.
Or you could just enjoy it.
Get it from Burning Eye Books here: https://burningeyebooks.wordpress.com/?s=permeable
Or from The Zon here: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Permeable-Hannah-Chutzpah/dp/191157003X/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1513796629&sr=1-1&keywords=Permeable