SELIMA HILL: PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A HORSE
ISBN 1 85224 600 6
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|SELIMA HILL: PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A HORSE|
Selima Hill once wrote, "all poetry is love poetry". Love is after all a bigger, darker and more complex word than romance , and Hill was trying to get at the important point that 'love poetry' is a rather stupid generic term; it demeans the word love to a kind of schmaltzy Valentine's Day card type of affair, and the word poetry for that matter. All poetry is about love, the absence of love, the need for love, the ridiculousness of love and the ever onward search for love.
So when Hill comes to write a book of 100 short selfstyled 'love poems' we can expect no Valentine's day card fodder, no 'roses are red, violets are blue' here. Language, domesticity and desire all collide in this alphabet of incantations, an A-Z of poetic spells in which Hill transforms her lover with a shake of her pen into anything from a 'Handbag' to a 'Servant', an 'Upmarket Snack' to a 'Waterbeetle' and the outcomes range from the sublime to the surreal. A hundred metaphors for the one human condition
Hill's lover is a figure of fun and a focus for spite and malice as much as he is an object of desire and longing. Often enough though these compact poems are so startling and strange we feel more than one of these emotions working at once, defying any clear explanation or finite meaning.
PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A NEWT like many of the poems is just made up of a single metaphor, but it is a sign of Hill's poetic skill that she still manages to transmogrify a kiss between lovers into such a shocking, abrupt and strange image in only four lines
Your tongue inside my mouth is like a newt beside the penis of a small babyIn another poem here a lover's lips, rest against her
temples like a gunHill dramatises the indifference and numbness inherent in these intimate exchanges with startling honesty; there are fleeting kicks and kisses in the teeth alike in this kind of love poetry.
MY LOVER AS A GOAT, is a dig in the ribs against an insensitive suitor,
you act as if there's no such thing as Ovaltine no such thing as wanting to be held.MY LOVER AS A GOOSE is on the other hand a sensuous ode to be,
eaten by moonlightHill you sense is relishing her work and all obsessions and emotions are catered for. Sinister commands, gentle pleas, urges to change and to remain the same, humour and lightness of touch are as ever with Hill the glue behind her poetry but so too is the darkness and swift slight of hand that transforms a gentle caress into a vicious rebuke or a domestic appliance into a weapon.
PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A WASHING MACHINE:
Get white; cat sheets; and with your rubber throat roar, 0 Lord for daring to be mineis a case in point and many of these poems transform household objects, a cardigan, jug, saucepan, and cushion into metaphors for the lover in a way that make the everyday reverberate with meaning.
In fact there is a pattern throughout the collection of using the domestic landscape, the vocabulary of many women's day to day existence, as an important tool. Just as Linda Sterling juxtaposed irons, and ironing boards with women's bodies in her montages during the 1970s, Hill uses this landscape of household objects to dramatise a woman's voice in this collection.
It's as if Hill sees the love lyric, the epitomical cliché of poetical history, as an exhausted and deflated idiom, one she can only hope to make work by mocking it, turning inside out at will and letting it dangle off her pen playfully. PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A KITCHENETTE is a case in point:
I would like to be married, O Lord to a kitchenette whose overstated but misleading radiance belies the fact it's easy to maintain.It's biting in its humour, a one liner in the best sense of the phrase, but it's overstated simplicity belies the fact that Hill's poems are digging under the skin of their subjects in important ways.
From the gentle humour of PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A FLOWER ARRANGEMENT:
so stiff so in the wayto the biting sarcasm of PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER'S SKULL this is love poetry that shocks, makes you laugh and fathoms the darkest deeps of the dislocation and isolation as well as me salvation of love.
There is something uplifting about the ending poems of PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A HORSE though. In PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS MY EX-LOVER the willing vulnerability of the
I have fallen in love, O Lord Wish wellthe jollity of PORTRAIT OF MY LOVER AS A YELLOW CAMPER VAN is about new beginnings and PORTRAIT AS A ZEBRA is breathtaking in its pace, desire and imagery.
All in all this carnival of moments, collection of spellbinding epiphanies, where lovers turn into Zebras and Motorways, where the fluff in a pocket is closer to god than an Angel, where Hill laughs at men, despises, mocks, humiliates and needs them is a mesmerizing book of poetry, which gets richer with every read
|reviewer: Joe Harvey.|