The House by the Sea, Selima HillThe jacket is filled with a full colour photograph of gleaming pebbles. They are huge and take up the whole jacket, so the jacket is predominantly grey and black. The author's name is centred in very large yellow caps at the foot of the jackets: it stands out clearly over the pebbles. Just above it is the title, centred in small bold white lower case, and quite hard to read against the pebbles.

Fair Acre Press, 2022 [publication date July]   £7.50


Stones appear as a motif in three-quarters of the poems here — shifting in their exact import, but collectively representing a malevolent fate, one that induces depression in its victims. The stones are implacable, heavy, and will feel familiar, I suspect, to readers who have known depression themselves. Given that Hill reveals in a brief ‘biog’ that she herself ‘lives by the sea’, I think we have the go-ahead to read the work autobiographically, in which case I can only marvel at the way she has captured and made such positive use of the experience.

Individual poems are brief, simply stated, and work together well, with one lyric reinforcing and casting light on another. Central to these connections is ‘The House is Full of Stones’:

The house is full of stones,
completely full,
everything is buried
under stones,
they’re weighing down the sofa
and the beds
and, on the beds,
the bodies of the boys,
and in the silence of the house
the stones
congratulate themselves
on being ruthless.

Malevolence is mentioned in more than one other piece, as are the boys — though in ‘The Doctor’ we read ‘they’re not boys, / they’re men, for Heaven’s sake’. This is nicely paralleled in ‘Pebbles’, where the stones themselves ‘object / to being called pebbles / by old fools’ because ‘it makes them sound like babies / but they’re not, / they’re deadly serious’.

The only poem I question is ‘Ducks’, which seems to me somewhat melodramatic. Happily, however, the duck protagonists reappear in a wonderfully defiant finale, the title of which is also the first line, as below:

Praise the muddy ducklings,
praise the ducks,
praise the roses
as they fall apart
and praise the god of worms
and praise the worms,
praise the tiny birds
that praise themselves
and hop about
as if nothing’s happened,
praise the mourned
and praise the hungry mourners,
praise the salmon,
praise the salmon mousse.

How bitter-sweet glorious — we are at a wake, observing life with relish ‘as if nothing’s happened’!

Rob Lock