Reduced to a Quivering Jelly, Selima HillThe jacket shows a full colour photograph of a polished wooden surface with a large white dead moth. The author's title is in huge yellow sans serif caps at the top, where the colour is darkest -- and the letters are pale yellow. The title of the pamphlet is near the bottom in small bold white lowercase, centred and filling the full width of the jacket nearly.

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

A life in snapshots

Reduced to a Quivering Jelly comprises thirty-five snapshots or micro scenes, which come together to present the central protagonist, Vera (an older woman). These vignettes reveal her as at once formidable and vulnerable, comic and tragic.

The brevity of the poems allows for quick comedy, such as in ‘The Penis of a Large Horse’, where we are told that:

The only penis she had ever seen
before the night she saw her late husband’s
(who wasn’t ‘late’ then, by the way)
was the penis of a large horse.

However, although we’re invited to smile at Vera at times, she’s by no means a caricature or butt of jokes. Her character is deeply complex. In ‘Lime-ade’, she storms out of a hairdressing salon —

She doesn’t need pampering, forget it!
She’s not a poodle, she’s a grown woman!

She’s shown to be strong-willed and determined, but at the same time there’s a hint of confusion — why is she angry? ‘Lime-ade’ ends with her returning home ‘to rooms like empty graves / or still waters’, the unsettling word choice perhaps suggesting loneliness and a sense of mortality.

The loss of Vera’s husband is revisited several times. In ‘Yellow Ducks’, she sits contemplating his ‘sins’ and remembering how, before he died, he turned the ‘same sickly yellow’ as ‘faded rubber ducks’. The short poems allow for deeply complex relationships and personalities to be touched on in a way that leaves much unsaid: what is silently present under the surface is significant.

As well as allowing for a life to be looked at from many different angles, the snapshot form is perfectly suited to depicting a character whose understanding of the world is becoming fragmented. In ‘Truffles’ we are told that:

Yesterday she didn’t trust the doctor,
today she doesn’t trust her own solicitor,
tomorrow she will trust everyone.

In ‘The Lovely Nurses’, she ‘rages like a star that’s been abandoned’:

for billions of years she has been searching
for somewhere she will recognise as home.

The pamphlet as a whole acts as a literary photograph album, revealing Vera in everyday moments that point to her complexity. Selima Hill’s ability to create a full character and life through vignettes is impressive. This is poetry which is at once biting and compassionate.

Isabelle Thompson