Every poem born of love or hope / is a risk
P.B. Hughes writes with intelligence and wit about her search for an authentic self. Girl, Falling is a pamphlet full of edgy language and varied layout that sometimes flows, sometimes disrupts– at times with unfinished lines. However, Hughes’ work is well crafted and accessible. My test of a good book is if I read it straight through, without stopping, and this was the case.
The book starts with a relationship demise and how, despite efforts to submerge herself to her partner’s needs– he unexpectedly leaves her. Hughes’ work conveys a struggle to emerge from gender bias and relationship. She examines language and punctuation, even the word No. In her opening poem, Dear World, she likens herself to punctuation, I am a full stop then a comma and finishes by saying:
i was light stilled to shadow
She questions society, Binary thinking is the pinball/of politicians, and reality, Don’t’ start with the assumption / that anything is real. Questions for a Lake, a list poem, is one of my favourites. It is also a poem of self-enquiry, including such questions as: What colour is your vision? Does silence exist? Did you feel like an outcast? At what depth are your secrets?
The poem that follows is Falling, in which she decides to enter the waters of self-discovery by plunging into a swimming lake. Water continues to be a theme throughout. In a later poem she is at sea with loss and little to navigate by.
There is intimation of rape, condoned by her partner. Poems that follow this seem more fragmented while delving deeper for answers. Some end with unfinished sentences:
Knee Deep in the North Sea
Take the fish and the selfie.
Fist the beach. Take home
a fistful of sand to hell with it.
Take out the metaphors and
escalator– a narrow shaft of a prose poem, ends:
few interact with the
blank sea rising
and falling to the
sound recording of a
A daughter, born via C-section, brings the possibility of love. Dressing a Daughter, is a mother’s poem for a girl growing strong:
My daughter’s shoes are red like her heart
She wears them fiercely
Red shoes to climb trees
and when her daughter wants to daub her lips with red shoe polish, she ponders how to voice concerns for safety over experiment:
Talk about the a and b scenarios
– the safety of lipstick
for girls, the safety of shoe polish
for lips – ?
There are political nuances, Footnotes on Genocide, and on xenophobia, Keep Your Distance. However, the last four poems bring a more positive note, expressing gratitude and a need for radical hope. Waters of loss and searching become a downpour of rain, with the welcome shelter of domestic contentment:
Clothes hung above an Aga afterwards
all I could smell was rain
rain in your hair
on your skin
as I stood behind you in a borrowed kitchen
while you buttered toast
Her final poem Source, feels triumphant, yet still twists and questions:
I keep coming back to you
back to source. Like salmon
although I hate the thought
of its brash belly clap on water…
But I am not a fish…
I carry the imprint
of a place to which
I keep coming back.
Order your copy of Girl, Falling (Gatehouse Press) by PB Hughes here: http://www.gatehousepress.com/shop/collections/girl-falling/