Hotel Bravo, Alexandra Payne
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:
its peaks and valleys
like a mountain range
full of waterfalls
and death drops
what stories the body tells
each tumour a cliffhanger