Biofoul Resistance and the Metal Womb: A review of Jenny Irish’s HATCH

by | May 13, 2024 | PGP Habitat

Jenny Irish is a master of gorgeous language, known to excavate raw truth through rigorous terrain. She is fearless in her vulnerable and layered characters and their destiny on the page. Her new book Hatch (Northwestern University Press, March 2024) is absolutely mesmerizing and frightening in its insight into what the future might hold for humanity. The prose poems in her collection tackle the horrific loss of reproductive rights, among other issues. Here’s what’s listed in the publisher’s book description:

This apocalyptic vision engages with the most pressing concerns of this contemporary sociopolitical moment: reproductive rights, climate crises, and mass extinction; gender and racial bias in healthcare and technology; disinformation, conspiracy theories, and pseudoscience; and the possibilities and dangers of artificial intelligence.

—NUPress Website

Those are fearsome issues that are coming to the surface, one after another, on a daily basis. What is ahead? An ominous question to ponder these days. Not many will embellish what awaits us. Irish certainly doesn’t. Get a copy of this provocative and necessary collection; it is unforgettable!

Some quotes that stopped me

  • “…and housed inside herself, a hundred tiny and terrified heartbeats fluttering, frenetic and longing to surface.”
  • “There is Persian galbanum burning—a smell so green it tastes green in the throat, though the metal womb has no throat.”
  • “The metal womb has a tangled grasp on a knotty theory…”
  • “…left alone with only the shallow sloshing of fermenting fluids, left alone with only the lonely echo of the children she nurtured from blastocysts to fetuses to would-be-future-humans, left alone with only herself, left alone with the knowledge that she was emptied with intent, a ghost vessel for lack of a crew, the field of tall grass dark, absent of all the little blinking lights.”
  • “Traffic lights swing dead. Roads recede with passing seasons.”
  • “Extinction–better than survival and the risk of becoming.”
  • “Her crew, her little lights, all mutinied, are as faceless as the round windows of a submarine, as featureless as glass. If she had a mirror, she would smash it.”

Hatch by Jenny Irish
Northwestern University Press
March 2024
88 pages

Some questions for Jenny Irish

What inspired you to move into the apocalyptic realm through motherhood? Truly magnificent!

Hatch is a speculative collection, but draws heavily on real events. The recent reduction in birth rates has been bemoaned by certain groups, who, it seems to me, choose to ignore available data that indicates poor work benefits, financial instability, political instability, and climate anxiety as significant motivators in the decision not to have children. Rather than commit to action that would help make the world a place where more people feel secure enough to have children, responsibility is placed on mothers to produce. Denying access to reproductive health—again, research supports this—is also a significant contributor remaining child-free. In Hatch, ignoring these concerns contributes to a series of interrelated events that lead to a rapid environmental and societal collapse. 

There are so many important and volatile arenas up for scrutiny, once again, with women’s rights to their bodies: to their choses. Was the political backlash we’re in now a part of your communion with this collection and the necessity to get it out into the world?

Yes. A lot of Hatch developed from events occurring as I was writing. There is a piece in the collection that is a direct result of Donald Trump holding a rally in a nearby town. In the piece, there are people selling offensive “merch” on the side of the road. It’s true that all along the highway, on the day of that rally, there were vans and trucks on the side of the road selling merchandise—flags, t-shirts—with racist and anti-women slogans, and it’s true that people on the way to that rally were pulling over to buy these things. My earlier books are all very invested in class, which I don’t think we consider enough, or represent particularly well. Hatch is a more broadly political collection—because so much what is happening in our current socio-political moment is intertwined. When I was writing Hatch, it felt incredibly urgent, and it absolutely still does. I would like people to read Hatch and actively think about the future we’re creating through the choices we’re making in the present. 

Give me your description of “the metal womb.”

I’m an outsider to Arizona though I’ve lived here for over a decade, and I’m always trying to get to know the state better. Arizona is known for copper mining. The state flag has a copper star. At some point, living here, I heard the term “biofoul resistant” and learned that copper is a preferable material for boat hulls and the mesh cages for farming fish. The metal womb was always copper in my mind, and beyond that, I can clearly picture her hands—which are proportionally tiny—but beyond that… In Hatch, when the metal womb is being hunted there is a lot of grossly mistaken identity. 

How much research did you do for this collection? And where did you excavate from?

Hatch was largely shaped by daily events. I would hear or see something and that would send me off to look for more information, or often send me off to try to confirm what I’d seen, or heard, or read. I watched a lot of educational science videos that were created for distance learning during Covid, and I used data collected by the CDC. The sections about Earth Day are based on my memories of elementary school where we did collect cigarette butts and a teacher tried to explain the hole in the ozone by holding a lighter to a balloon. I went down the rabbit hole and found myself in a vast warren of tunnels about the practice of “testicle tanning.” 

Conspiracy theories are intriguing. Did you find many that filtered through your collection?

So much of Hatch, in my mind, is about how one thing influences another. There are several pieces that are explicitly about concepts of masculinity and one of those features a group of men practicing “testicular tanning” to increase their testosterone levels. It’s one of many examples in the book of people picking and choosing what science they’ll believe, and how data is misrepresented to serve an agenda. Trump, whenever the chance was there, went out of his way to attack the masculinity of his opponents. He was making thinly veiled references to his penis size. In Hatch, performative toxic masculinity is linked to irresponsible gun ownership and a range of fantasies of dominance. All of the above are connected to the conspiracy theory of “the end of men.” Denials of climate change and human impact on the natural world are also woven throughout Hatch.

Have you seen the film Soylent Green (1973)? It came to mind when reading this collection.

“SOYLENT GREEN IS PEOPLE!” I have seen Soylent Green. Spoiler: It’s not soy and lentils. Have you read Tender is the Flesh

No. But I definitely will read it now! How has it been to work with Northwestern University Press? How is the distribution with them?

Working with Northwestern University Press / Curbstone Books has been a great experience. They’re very supportive of their authors. 

Thank you so much, Jenny Irish, for your brilliant collection, Hatch, and for your in-depth answers to these questions.

Hatch is absolutely captivating and powerful prose that leaves the reader with an abundance of haunting scenarios of our future. Truly magnificent. In the words of Gayle Brandeis, author of Many Restless Concerns: “This collection is a deep, surprising, chilling—yet, somehow, also really fun—look at who we are as humans, at what we’ve done to the earth and each other, and at where the future may lead us.”

Jenny Irish is from Maine and lives in Arizona, where she teaches at Arizona State University. She is the author of the hybrid collections Common Ancestor and Tooth Box, the short-story collection I Am Faithful, the chapbook Lupine, and most recently Hatch. She facilitates free community workshops every summer.

Meg Tuite’s upcoming collection, “Planked By The Abyss” published by “Whiskey Tit” in June, 2024. Her latest published collection is ‘Three By Tuite’ (2023). She is author of seven story collections and five chapbooks. She won the Twin Antlers Poetry award for her poetry collection, Bare Bulbs Swinging and is included in Best of Small Press 2021 and Wigleaf’s Top 50 stories for 2022, 2023. She is the fiction editor of Bending Genres and associate editor at Narrative Magazine