Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Hotel Bravo, Alexandra PayneThe text is all centred. First the author's name BIG lower case in black. Below this are HUGE white caps for HOTEL BRAVO, each word on its own line. Below this in tiny black caps: AN EYEWEAR SPECIAL PAMPHLET. The Eyewear logo (a pair of specs is tiny and centred right at the bottom. Behind all of this is the backing wallpaper which is a huge city building, a wall of lights and windows, no, sky, no ground. it suggests itself as an image of the hotel in the title.

Eyewear Publishing Ltd, 2017   £6.00

‘What stories the body tells’

The poet’s mother has breast cancer, the poet herself has depression (see ‘I’m very grateful for Citalopram’), and her boyfriend thinks he’s in love with Jeremy Corbyn because he (Corbyn) makes jam.

So the reader picks up on the mixture of dark experience and light comedy fast. Nobody is feeling sorry for themselves here: it’s more a business of telling it like it is, striking while the irony is hot.

The speaking voice is very much not a super-hero (see ‘Jessica Jones’) but she has a special power, namely a way with words. As she bends over the bowl of a toilet, she reads the graffiti question: ‘Are you here with Bobby?’ (the poem’s first-line title), and then

He used to say beautiful things to me too.

Her comment on this is as sharp a knife and white-hot with anger:

The marker is faded

as if Bobby is a ghost,
some ectoplasmic fuckboy, tethered

to the wanton grief of a girl
in such torment from a random transgression

that she wrote his name on the door of a pisser.

This is not just any low-mood confessionalist. It’s someone who can light fire crackers under her own poems and not even jump back.

The last piece in the pamphlet, ‘Bodily Fictions’, is one of those poems with no punctuation, and phrases dotted around the page. I’m always a bit suspicious of fancy layouts. There are exceptions. This is one of them. The presentation has its own rationale; the wordplay surprises with a fine excess. She begins

each blink a comma

                                                          in the sentence of the mouth

            deep in the gut churns              the nauseating knowledge

                                                                      everything is not quite right

To me, there’s something exquisitely personal, poignant, about the baldness of ‘everything is not quite right’. On which she builds. You find yourself toppling from one phrase to the next, slightly dizzily, and as you go it gets more and more frightening. This is how she ends:

torso
its peaks and valleys
like a mountain range
                       full of waterfalls
                                                          and death drops


what stories the body tells
                                               each tumour a cliffhanger

Helena Nelson