Poetry Shelf Occasional Reviews: Jordan Hamel’s ‘Everyone is Everyone Except You’

Everyone is Everyone Except You, Jordan Hamel, Dead Bird Books, 2022

In this city you can be whoever you want
and I’m still so much myself it’s disgusting

nothing else fits, nothing is comfortable,
I just want comfort, I want, I want

poorly-aged fish-out-of-water celebrity voyeurism
to remind me living can be so, um, uncomplicated

there’s nothing left for me here except reality
sleep demons waving performance plans

mandatory psychometric pub quizzes
where every answer is a ghost you’ve buried


Jordan Hamel, from ‘The Simple Life’


Three poets whose writing I admire immensely – Hera Lindsay Bird, Tracey Slaughter and Tayi Tibble – endorse Jordan Hamel’s debut poetry collection on the back of the book. That is enough to make it essential reading. I read their comments once I finish the book and have mused upon its effects. I begin by pirouetting on ‘everybody’ and ‘someone’, pulled between the wide-reaching ALL and the particular ME. The poems deliver ‘I’ and ‘you’, and I am fascinated by the movement these pronouns/entities/gaps generate. You could say there’s a swing bridge between them, an interface, a hammock, and however you visualise the link, it is a link with traffic. And out of that glorious energised traffic, you find poetry.

Jordan’s deft ear and eye, his ability to craft words and lines, underline myriad ways to read and travel in a poem. Writing (reading) becomes a route beneath your own skin, a way of stretching writing to embrace the universal and the personal. This is writing of comfort and discomfort, of need and want. It is vulnerable and it is direct.

Rebecca Hawkes writes very different subject matter, but I absorb a similar verve and vitality, an ability to reveal spikes and judder bars, and to conceal. Jordan’s speaking voice is one of self scrutiny, self doubt, even perhaps self erasure. And then the whole process turns upside down, and the poetry is the act and art of self preservation, self testing, self nourishment. This affects me deeply as reader (and as secret writer).

The self deprecation is scattered thought out:

and the last old man          I’ll ever disappoint      is me

where I grew up      men don’t get sick     they rust
like grizzled house cats      under the ute      they crawl
with a quiet    they’ve always carried            they don’t die
just become another blunt saw    you never throw away


from ‘The worst thing that will ever happen to you
hasn’t happened yet’

The final poem ends on blank space, on pause, reset, refill, silence, breath intake. It is over to us how we respond, engage. We now inhabit “you”, which also becomes a way of reflecting upon “I”, whichever “I” that is, whether anybody everybody somebody. These lines form the final musical notes of a haunting book that is such a rich and open reading experience.

                   the perfect poem is just                                     blank space


the perfect you is just



from ‘Human resource’         

Dead Bird page

Jordan Hamel website

Wellington City Libraries video interview

Jordan Hamel (he/him/his) is a Pōneke-based writer, poet and performer. He was the 2018 New Zealand Poetry Slam champion and represented NZ at the World Poetry Slam Champs in 2019. He is the co-editor of Stasis Journal and co-editor of a forthcoming climate change poetry anthology from Auckland University Press. He is a 2021 Michael King Writer-in-Residence and recently placed third in the 2021 Sargeson Prize judged by Patricia Grace. He has recently had words published in The Spinoff, The Pantograph Punch, Newsroom, NZ Poetry Shelf, Landfall, Turbine | Kapohau and elsewhere.

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