Exposition Ladies, Helen BowieThe jacket is pink. roughly in the middle a band of black pvc, roughly like a brassiere, holds two eggs, pointy end upwards. All text is in small black caps and centred. The title, over two lines is just above the eggs. Below the eggs, over two lines, the words are: POETRY BY / HELEN BOWIE

Fly on the Wall Press, 2022     £6.99

What women feel

The role of an ‘exposition lady’ in a film is to move the plot along. The pamphlet opens with ‘The Reservoir’, which takes the form of a twenty-three-line, single-sentence cry of distress. A woman (an ‘exposition lady’) shouts down her phone for help. At the other end of the line is ‘handsome man’. By implication, the situation is unfair because he will ‘claim credit for knowledge gleaned from my call’. Males at large are included in an emphatic unfairness:

the men, the men on the end of the phone and
the men on the street and the men in the thick of it and the men
in the audience

The woman’s call concerns water so badly infected that those who drink it could drop dead:

                                                                              their fes-
tering corpses will become toxic, but no, the science has not yet
confirmed that their toxicity will be airborne

The ideal hero is impossible to find. And the caller’s phone will ’beep, beep, beep’:

                                                                    I cannot use my knowl-
edge to save the world because I am but a woman, on the phone, pro-
viding exposition.

By this time, men in general have become associated with ‘toxic’ as in toxic masculinity; woman with helplessness. One of the roles of females in these poems is to show what is felt but not expressed — for example, that they are oppressed by the male sex.

An endorsement quote from Angela Cleland asserts that the work is Bowie’s ‘astute examination of female agency in film’. The poems open up eighteen film situations, in which the ‘Exposition Lady’ is variously coach, friend, mother, school teacher etc. Thumping rhythms and filmic background create arresting imagery, although in places I find the approach a little unsubtle. For example, it seems to me the final poem might end more thought-provokingly on the penultimate line:

I am the exposition lady.
My panties stuffed
into my cold dead
mouth in the opening shot.
A warning.
A welcome.
A film that hates women.

Sally Festing