“How to Wear Grunge” Ruth Stacey (Knives Forks and Spoons Press) – poetry review

grungecover“How to Wear Grunge” is an unconventional exploration of life on the cusp of adulthood. It eschews nostalgia and becomes a search for a young woman named Carey Hunter who is assumed to be a long-lost friend until the tone of the search turns darker. Carey is introduced in “Her Name”,

Address: Somewhere familiar, cold snap in the air, city buzzing,
guitar music playing, lyrics aim & circle: theme gloom/not gloom.

Voice: Growl, low, high, light, whispered, bellowed, impossible
to describe. Butterfly made of paper, caught in the draft.

Eyes: Fox coloured. I’m certain, fox-russet, copper.”

There are already hints at the unreliability of memory: the address is not remembered but the music is and the eye colour shifts. Carey could be any young twenty-something dreaming of being a singer, trying drugs, whilst not yet ready to settle into the nine-to-five. She didn’t survive but is a reminder of a past life in “Lecture to Myself”,

“Keats knew the power of an unrequited thing
& you could say this is second-hand electric love
yes, you fall in love with people             you crush
intensity of falling    chest compressed beneath the  weight
crushing the real her away dust in the air
truth                 she reminds you/me of a period of time
hippy wall hangings & live bands
smokes, pills, music             when nothing/everything hurt”

The poem becomes fragmentary as memories do with white spaces to linger in. It evokes a time of experimentation, first loves and crushes, and a time when dreams still felt possible. The title poem is a warm reflection on a sense of community,

“with friendship bands
with familiarity & comfort
            burying under jackets for a hug
            clothes smelling of weed & baccy
with recognition in a crowd
.               the same orange jumper
.               green striped tee
.               so clothes were our bodies
with no care for glamour”

It poignantly remembers that sense of searching for a tribe and wearing clothes as markers of recognition. Some mementos survived, “Describe a Picture No One Else Has Seen” is a photo of her laughing at a forgotten joke,

“Her hair is long, straight, heavy bangs, red: the colour of a copper
plate, buried for 2000 years & then dug up from a barrow … polished
so it burns bright. Her eyes are green. Specifically,
the colour of a piece of plucked sage.

Wait, you said her hair was the colour of burnt wood.


A darkness threads through the good times. “The Worst Thing” concerns a girl who “loves to read and he has no books” and the unnamed he who “loves to force her”. It’s years later she is pushed to admit she was raped by him.

“Gretel’s Crumbs” is a reminder of the girl at the heart of the collection,

“Carey Hunter would always seek
.             the next thrill, something to wipe
away the memory of that loss          seek
& find love street                    hate street
.           any club, any building, she could
score, she had a gift”

Although dead, her presence still haunts and is re-gifted with a life of sorts in “(un) real woman”

“create a character on the role-playing game
with her name so she can kick the shit out
of the monster who got in her way”

“How to Wear Grunge” is an atmospheric capture of young adult yearning, youthful mistakes against the soundtrack of a subculture remembered with fondness but not nostalgia. This is no hagiography but a forensic examination of a life stopped short but not forgotten.

“How to Wear Grunge” is available from Knives Forks and Spoons Press.


One Response to ““How to Wear Grunge” Ruth Stacey (Knives Forks and Spoons Press) – poetry review”

  1. How to Wear Grunge – Ruth Stacey Says:

    […] Emma Lee Review HERE […]

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