Book review: Clean, Scott-Patrick Mitchell

A poetry collection that tracks the hard road from addiction to recovery.

Clean is an exposé of drug addiction: its multi-layered effects, the personal loss, and the courage it takes to overcome it. Each poem in Scott-Patrick Mitchell’s three-part anthology drips with visceral imagery, inviting the reader to draw their own meaning from the author’s world. 

This poetry collection is an education, a frank glimpse into the bleakness of a drug user’s world with its devastating turmoil. It circles through self-hate, despair and dejection, the helplessness and hopelessness that is the nature of addiction depicted with unsentimental frankness: ‘in The Before, we were all / such nice people’ who, inevitably, ‘will be back in a few days to do this all again’. The functional people (without first-hand experience of addiction), those who ‘walk around us without indication’, see these addicts as junkies sleeping off their highs during the day in public places.

The loss of dignity within the mire of addiction – what addicts must do and what they lose in the process, to keep their habit fed – is woven into each line. These poems unapologetically instigate compassion for the afflicted. The free-verse poems vary in metre. Mitchell plays with form, skewing punctuation alongside line-length and placement. The result is a sense of dislocation mirroring the author’s chaotic surroundings.

Innovative plays on words integrate drug paraphernalia into spiritual insight and the wider world. Effective literary techniques add vivid imagery to the rhythm of urban drug users within toxic ensnarement, where night is a friend inhabited to extreme, and the most positive occurrence is confirmation from a dealer. 

Mitchell presents a position that lures an audience, then masterfully switches tack, unsettling readers by challenging their assumptions. The assumption in ‘i call her XX because i can’t remember her name’ is that a drug-addled brain cannot hold detail, the toxic habit is affecting functionality. Deftly countering with ‘for legal reasons’, Mitchell pivots the audience to the confrontational awareness that what’s being described is illegal, and the real people featured in these poems are entitled to protection of identity.

The cover image of a draped curtain intimates that the reader is given access to an inside world, private places not often seen. Resembling a bedsheet, the image could also be a metaphor: the author is airing their dirty laundry. 

In contrast to the first two sections, ‘Dirty’ and ‘The Sleep Deprivation Diaries’, which focus on the micro-world of an addict, the content of the last section, ‘Clean’, widens to include climate change, COVID, gender diversity and American gun violence. This expanded lens reflects the ability of a healthy person to concentrate on larger issues: the author’s recovery has allowed healthy re-entrance to the wider world once more.

Read: Book review: My Heart is a Little Wild Thing, Nigel Featherstone

The first line of ‘This Is Not A Manifesto’ indicates continued growth: ‘Because I am still manifesting’. Mitchell continues that they are ‘learning to be brave again’ and ‘There are days when even using a capital I feels like taking up too much space’, concluding that ‘for now, I shall identity as human, because it is the only word I know for other.’

Clean is a journey to foreign internal places, or – for fellow addicts of any vice – places they will recognise within themselves. Mitchell summarises getting clean as ‘a form of grief / so let go / of your own ghost: / a wake, every day’. This gentle reminder that everyone has shadows which they carry within themselves, and that facing them in all their ugliness ultimately creates authenticity, is indicative of the indelible strength of these poems.

In summary, each ‘poem is … a doctor, because poetry is medicine’. Prepare to witness transformation.  

Clean by Scott-Patrick Mitchell
Publisher: Upswell
ISBN: 9780645247930
Format: Paperback
Pages: 109pp
Publication date: March 2022
RRP: $24.99

Annabel Harz is a career teacher, burgeoning editor and an emerging writer. She released her first book in 2017. Her second release, Journey into the Shadow and the Sunshine, was released in October 2021.