Bad Luck Woman, Alex Bell

Eyewear Aviator, 2016  £5.00

Humour as armour

I’ve been thinking about irony lately. I enjoy it in life. I enjoy it in poetry. I particularly appreciate it alongside vulnerability: it seems a way of saying ‘Look, I am at times small and vulnerable, but here is my brain still functioning – we can share a good joke’. I think it builds trust. Emily Berry is a master here. Others too. And it’s one of the things I enjoyed most about Bad Luck Woman.

The first poem, ‘Overnight’, sets a pace: ‘moths faffed about a bulb’, it starts, sharing an image (sharing its tiredness). Alex Bell paints pictures, with this dry, quite streetwise humour. A poem celebrating ‘Julep’ is cleverly sensual: ‘I think that the ice was crushed by hand. Someone has sweated over this / ice. Beads formed on the long contours of their arm…’

The title poem pens an everywoman-type history of seeking the perfect (male) mate: ‘The first man was a runner. / He was all glisten and sinew… ’ (It’ll come as no surprise to learn this ends badly); ‘The second was a therapist… ’ (Later, inevitably: ‘I was glad not to see him again’.) The fun is in the language. Of course, there’s also pain. I love this line in ‘Georgia on my mind’: ‘We hate to see her go. We love to watch her leave.’ Or this (from ‘The dark end of the street'):

[...]  I think I’m happy with the shadow I’m in.
And me so small I can fit my things in a Tin-Tin tote bag
and be gone by nine. I leave that place so clean
of me.

Some of the poems seem even more overtly funny. ‘Björn Borg in Chicago’, for instance. (Although it is and isn’t: ‘On Björn’s down days, he rarely seeks company. I don’t know why today is different. // “That damn sweatband”, he says, touching his forehead’.)

Plus, throughout, there are deliciously-observed images. ‘I wonder if the mice are the same colour as the dust / on the tracks’, the poet wonders in ‘Encounters at the end of the world’, ‘or coated in it, like truffles in cocoa’.

Charlotte Gann