In 2008, Selima published 'Gloria', a 336 page selected poems more substantial than most collected volumes. Simultaneously, she unveiled 'The Hat', an unusually slim collection concerning female identity I've not even caught up with yet. Last year, she won the Flarestack Poetry Pamphlet Competition with 'Advice on Wearing Animal Prints' which was published as a result. Far be it for me to question the integrity of the judges - I've not even read the thing, so am open to accusations of talking out of my leopard skin pillbox hat - but if this Selima Hill is anything like any other Selima Hill I've read, I'd know I was reading Selima Hill within the lines of the first poem. All poetry competition judges being as paranoid as I am, I'd then begin to suspect that I was reading the work of an accomplished Selima Hill imitator, adopting her voice and her themes but to lesser effect than the Lilith of Lyme. I'd then lure the administrator of the contest into my dilemma - if this is the real deal, Selima testing her mojo is still working by entering anonymously, she wins first prize; if someone taking on her tropes in the manner of a skilled forger of Picasso or Dali, I'd win the booby prize - and make the award conditionally.
Fortunately, unlike me, all poetry judges and publishers have integrity, so you shouldn't read into my stewing on this any of the ingredients of truth. But what is more remarkable is that again last year - the year after she published both 'Gloria' and 'Hat', the year in which she published 'Advice on Wearing Animal Prints' - Selima also baked 'Fruitcake', four sequences of 'poems about motherhood' (in the same sense that 'MacBeth' and 'Alice in Wonderland' are about motherhood) each of which could be a collection in its own right - another 238 pages of Hillage.
Back to my thoughts on Selima as painter (Tracey Emin, to be precise, of whom I'm a genuine admirer; her memoir 'Strangeland' I unreservedly recommend) the poems in 'Fruitcake' (and she must've written at least one a day) take on each image and explore it over the length of several pieces. This may not be such a daft theory - Selima was born to a couple of Hampstead artists and while I don't know their work or method, she'd have grown up among visual artists and learnt how to be an artist from them. I rather admire this approach, but sometimes you feel like you're leafing through an exceptionally gifted artist's sketchbook looking for the major work, or an idea that might become it. And you begin to focus more on method than content, when content is king in my pre-modernist mind.
For all that, it is great fun, and if you are a fan - as you surely are, even if you don't know it yet - then you'll have fun with this book, even if you end up wondering if she isn't publishing too much (not writing too much, you can never write too much). And if you're lazy like me and want a one poem primer so you can pretend you've read the book I suggest 'Icy Metal' on p.157 which leads me to believe that Selima might have been watching 'Ice Road Truckers' while licking at her ice cream.
I realise that was a long way round not reviewing a book so in compensation I'm republishing my previous reviews of two of Selima's books originally published in Poetry Quarterly Review...
Selima Hill has crashed recent poetry shebangs like a bag lady at the ball, carting trolley loads of awards back to Dorset where, I imagine, she feeds her menagerie of cats and ducks pilfered caviar from engraved silver salvers whilst dancing in the laundry in evening dress, wringing her fingers through the poetry mangle.