At the suggestion of my mentor-tutor, the wonderful and talented Moniza Alvi, I have been reading Selima Hill’s work. I’ve just finished Hill’s rich and disturbing collection A Little Book of Meat. Hill’s images, and her manipulation of language, is thrilling while also being marvelously unsettling. She writes from a dark, wild, revelatory, and bloody place.
One of the most wonderful things about Hill’s poems in this collection is the way her metaphors and images jump from completely unexpected places – lively and meaty. The words swerve on the page, taking you in directions you would never think to go on your own.
The guiding theme of this collection is wonderfully peculiar. The back of the jacket reads:
The poems in A Little Book of Meat are written in the voice of a woman growing up on a remote cattle farm with her mother, a devout Catholic, and her much-loved assortment of animals. She is already nearly 30, knows little of the outside world, and walks with a slight limp. One day a stranger calls, a travelling slaughterman…
What a wonderful description! What a starting point for a collection! I love it – it is just such a quirky concept. Of late I’ve been working with the idea of using themes to help streamline my own poetry — something I’m finding hugely helpful. So far I’ve been using quite vague themes — I love that Hill, here, uses something so specific. You might think it could be limiting, but instead Hill creates a diverse world, with a particularly rich and idiosyncratic narrator.
Here are a few excerpts I particularly like:
from North Carolina
Everything about you’s a bit like me —
in the same way that North Carolina’s a bit like Ribena
but rhymes with Vagina, which is nearly the same,
but much darker —
brutal and sweet like disease,
sweet as an asphalt dealer.
from Don’t Let’s Talk About Being In Love
At night I dream that your bedroom’s crammed with ducks.
You smell of mashed-up meal and scrambled egg.
Some of the ducks are broody, and won’t stand up.
And I dream of the fingers of your various wives
reaching into your private parts like beaks.
from The Airport
But you’re talking like a little worm in trousers;
you’re talking like a fish in a bonnet;
an unforgivable slug in something being passed off as a side salad.
Be Matisse in Tahiti.
Imagine aircraft soaring out of your head.
(Italics are from the text.)
You can also listen to Hill read from the poem Cow in this YouTube clip.