Poetry - Men Who Feed Pigeons


Tony Cross is reading all the books and poems shortlisted for this year's Forward Prizes for Poetry. Here are his thoughts on Men Who Feed Pigeons by Selima Hill ...

I have not read any Selima Hill before, which made this an interesting read. Stylistically and structurally, this is different to any of the other collections I have read during this Forward Poetry Prize phase - the winners of which were announced on Sunday 24th October.

The collection is seven sequences of poems, which are not connected except that they are related to women's relationships with men. Or that's how I understood it. The usual caveats here about me being a bear of very little brain and possibly totally misunderstanding what the collection is about.

Each of the seven sequences is made up of short - sometimes very short - poems. I started to think of them like Christmas Crackers. The sharp pull of the set-up and then the bang of the final line. Poems in this collection are rarely more than four to six lines long. It feels unusual.

The seven sections are The Anaesthetist, which focuses on men at work; The Beautiful Man With The Unpronounceable Name is about feeling for another man's husband; Billy is about male/female friendships; Biro, is about an odd Uncle and his dog; The Man with the Quilted Dressing Gown is the portrait of an old man; Ornamental Lakes as Seen from Trains is about a man and the woman who is afraid of him. I got the impression that this was meant to be a father and a daughter. Finally, Shoebill is about an artist and his muse. Again, or so that seemed to me.

As I've said the rat-a-tat tat of the constant hit of short poem after short poem makes for an unusual reading experience. I don't know if this is a regular part of Selima Hill's style or something she has done just for this collection. I'm going to have to find out. Hill is, I think, the most experienced poet in the Forward Prizes shortlist and has published twenty poetry collections going back to 1984 and it would be interesting - to me - to see how her work has developed over that time.

She has a great eye for a vivid image the obviousness of which varies from poem to poem. Some are pleasingly surreal. Some more straightforward.

The shortness of the poems makes this a deceptively simple collection but there is also an unsettling atmosphere to this it. Things are never quite what they seem. There's an undercurrent of oddness to some of these relationships. Oddness might not be the right word, but it makes for a collection that feels unique.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71



About The Forward Prizes

The Forward Prizes are a celebration for those who love contemporary poetry, in association with the Forward Arts Foundation. The winners of this year's prizes were announced at a ceremony on 24th October. Here are the shortlists:

The 2021 Forward Prize for Best Collection

Kayo Chingonyi – A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus)
Tishani Doshi – A God at the Door (Bloodaxe Books)
Selima Hill – Men Who Feed Pigeons (Bloodaxe Books)
Luke Kennard – Notes on the Sonnets (Penned in the Margins)
Stephen Sexton – Cheryl’s Destinies (Penguin Poetry)


The 2021 Felix Dennis Prize for Best First Collection

Caleb Femi – Poor (Penguin Poetry)
Alice Hiller – bird of winter (Pavillion Poetry)
Cynthia Miller – Honorifics (Nine Arches Press)
Holly Pester – Comic Timing (Granta Poetry)
Ralf Webb – Rotten Days in Late Summer (Penguin Poetry)


The 2021 Forward Prize for Best Single Poem

Fiona Benson – ‘Androgeus’ (Times Literary Supplement)
Natalie Linh Bolderstone – ‘Middle Name with Diacritics’ (National Poetry Competition)
John McCullough – ‘Flower of Sulphur’ (Poetry London)
Denise Riley – ‘1948’ (Poetry Ireland Review)
Nicole Sealey – ‘Pages 22-29, an excerpt from The Ferguson Report: An Erasure’ (Poetry London)

Image - Amazon