Full-bleed photo of a porcupine(?)'s snout and front, yellow and black letteringDolly, Selima Hill

Fair Acre Press, 2022       £7.50

In search of lovability

In Dolly, as in so much of her work, Selima Hill tackles a fundamental question using humour and caricature.

Throughout, a speaker seems to be on an undercover search for lovability — both her own, and that of the (often harsh or unappealing) women around her.

The pamphlet begins and ends with poems about adorability, cuteness, and ducks — ‘sinless and adorable’, it says in ‘When I was a Girl I Was Adorable’. However, there’s an unmistakable dimension of loss. Both her and the women who surround her, are described as having ‘been adorable’, and the pet duck in ‘Linda’ was ‘once[…] cute’ (my emphases). In these poems, the uncomplicated lovability generally belonging to children and ducks has gone awry. Thus begins her search.

In ‘Mother Mary’, the speaker (at a convent school) discovers the potential lovability of the nuns. She shares her realisation that the nuns ‘were women, like my mother, in disguise.’ They soften in her view — become familiar.

The speaker’s real mother, we learn, is absent:

Did our parents visit us?   Never.

Here, she raises the question of her own (un)lovability as an abandoned, unvisited child.

Parents do not come out of this well. Later, she finds a mirror for her own sense of abandonment in ‘Penny in the Opposite Bed’ who ‘was being fed through a tube’ and whose ‘parents didn’t visit anymore’.

Alternative parent figures offer little comfort. There are women who appear deliberately to withhold love, such as ’Bernadette Upstairs’ who ‘was cruel, […] like God’, and ‘Miss de Vos, Headmistress’, with eyes

                              like flooded quarries
only the hardiest swimmers can survive

However, the protagonist never gives up on her hope of encountering the lovable — both in herself and in the other. ‘My Friend Annie’ describes — in one long, layered and gleeful sentence — how pleasurable it is to meet a loving and accommodating other, using the image of a pig ‘shuffling down an alley late one night, / alone and lost and looking for a home'. Our hero ‘has never met another pig before’ and delights in finally, wonderfully, ‘meeting one for the first time’.

Georgia Gildea