Men in Shorts, Selima HillThe jacket is filled with the full colour photo of a black Scottie dog sitting on folded rug on a grey sofa. It is sitting up alertly and looking to one side. The author's name centred at the top (above the sofa) in very large orange caps. The collection title is centred in small white lower case letters about an inch below this and just above the dog's head.

Fair Acre Press, 2022      £7.50


Men in Shorts reminds us of the connectedness between different human lives shown in brief physical encounters. Our verbal exchanges are influenced by what we see as a shared attribute. Our interactions may say more about ourselves than people we address. Invariably they convey indirect messages or vibrations.

This pamphlet collection contains 45 single stanzas of (with one exception) between two and six lines. A simple vocabulary is, in each case, enlivened by a few words of direct speech.

The poetic voice is always present either as ‘I’, ‘we’, or implicitly as part of ‘everyone’. Other participants in one-act skits are introduced with the pronouns ‘he’ or ‘she’. Roughly half the poems contain a dog.

The collection moves from a doggy Spring to summer with cows. Elsewhere sex, sport and religion introduce topics of a general kind. But I have friends who met through dog-walking and they remark how otherwise unlikely developments stem from obsession with their pets.

There, however, are no dogs in ‘Men’, the title poem, where the direct speech runs (in italics) ‘There’s more to life than men in shorts!’. The follow-up to that assertion, and final line, ‘But what?’ acknowledges a general obsession with sex that gives the poem the immediacy of stand-up comedy. The reader doesn’t need to be a philosopher to understand its impact. I (a committed cat-person) can almost hear the laughter the poem is designed to encourage.

The admission (in ‘Husbands’) that a protagonist’s Bull Terrier is ‘a better friend […] than they ever were’ is interrupted by bracketed words explaining who ‘they’ were —  ‘(she means her husbands)’. The rejoinder offers a sly probe into the speaker’s life and mind.

Similarly, ‘The woman with the Neopolitan Mastiff’ says that Mastiffs ‘complement inadequate personalities’. Either she’s being humorous or acknowledging a modesty of which she is unaware. ‘The rest of us / think of something tactful to say’ and this pulls the reader once more into the complicated double-edge of verbal communication. Innocent remarks can be misinterpreted. Gaps fill with vibration between what we say, think and mean.

Sally Festing