The Becoming of Lady Flambé, Holly Magill
Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018 £6.00
Looking for a family
This collection of related poems is both humorous and full of pathos. It features a number of voices. Lady Flambé’s words are formatted in regular type, while other members of the circus family are italicised.
We follow Lady Flambé — she’s not given a first name — from childhood to independence. She’s injured for life at the age of three when an elephant treads on her foot. There’s no glamour in this bizarre circus world. Lady Flambé is an outsider, but she’s loved. She longs for affection from Kelly, her wayward and careless mother with huge dyed blonde hair and obsession for bananas. But she’s loved by Bella, the bearded lady, and Jolly Boy, the sad clown. Then Kelly abandons her:
[ ... ] the text, two weeks after she went
to Ibiza: stayin. keep her if u want.
[‘Bella — why you are with us’]
The collection is a celebration of being different, populated with quirky characters who share tragedies and love. There's a series of outrageous events. Lady Flambé becomes wayward and promiscuous:
good at eyeing [boys], fingering
the rim of my glass, making them
wonder if I’m the sort of girl who might —
and I find I’m the sort of girl who does.
[‘No one tells me not to’]
She teaches herself to be a fire-eater, with help from her first boyfriend. She develops strategies to protect herself. For example, in ‘A small matter’ she sabotages Leon the knife thrower so he has to leave:
I’m not allowed
to throw knives after that. Even so, a man can function
with only one ear, and a missing testicle is a small matter.
Finally Lady Flambé comes of age, her mother abandons her again, Jolly Boy has a breakdown and Bella dies. Bella gives her the keys to her camper van and Lady Flambé emerges as a person in her own right, performing as a fire-eater at Glastonbury:
The tools of my trade:
[ ... ]
I have everything I need to begin.
This is a delightful, entertaining collection, full of compassion and humour. It asks the essential question: What makes a family?