“Hex” mixes up figures from myth and legend with ordinary people. This isn’t done to bring legends down to size but to elevate the every-day and ask readers to look again at the familiar, focusing on significant, relatable moments. In “Salome”, who was King Herold’s step-daughter, she is eyeing the men in the room, “Look at that fat one/ sprawling on his throne, bloated like a pig”, whilst dancing for them,
“Anything is yours if you will dance for me.
My bare feet slap on marble, my breasts bounce,
my skirts become a frenzied whirl of fire
as the musicians madden to crescendo.
What power I have Anything you want.
Your bleeding head is brought me on a plate.
My eyes feast upon the gore at your gaping mouth.”
Dancing whilst all eyes are on her may make her feel powerful, but when she tests that power by asking for the head of John the Baptist, her focus turns to the blood and gore. It’s left to readers to work out if this is a pyrrhic victory or success. What happens when the music stops?
In “Pearls”, a widowed mother, who’d met her late husband at a tea dance is on a walk with her daughter to find the tree planted in his memory,
“she turns to me, smiles, holds out her hand.
She is a girl again. And to some ballroom music
only she can hear, we are dancing together,
waltzing, in and out of the willows.”
The power of dance to trigger memories is transformative. An ordinary walk becomes magical. Grief can become a celebration of the life loss, not just sadness. There’s a note of regret in “Stone Child, Bone Child” which looks at the life of fossil expert, Mary Anning,
“I have no book-learning, but I’ve
argued with clever men and been
proved right. I’ve had no time
for friends or family. There was
a man once, but nothing came of it.
At the foot of the road to the sea
is a small museum named in my honour.
These labelled specimens will last for ever”
Uneducated because she was girl, she nevertheless built an expert knowledge of Britain’s Jurassic coast and the fossils she discovered. “I’ve had no time/ for friends or family” isn’t just a statement of the choosing a career over family or an obsession for work but a pointer to how unusual that made her for her time and how that was a deterrent for potential suitors. Use of the word “small” to describe the museum suggests it’s not quite the honour it should be.
In “Tea Candles” a shop-lifter, an otherwise invisible, elderly woman, collects things for a tea party she’ll never have and guests who will never be invited so
“no one would ever see inside
the airing cupboard on the landing,
each shelf heaped with bootees,
knitted baby bonnets, plastic
rattles of pink and blue.”
Where unfulfilled dreams become an obsession akin to Miss Haversham’s, who also makes an appearance in “Hex”, wedding dress. The poem questions how well we know people we regularly see and how much attention we pay.
“Hex” takes familiar figures from myth and legend and re-examines them alongside poems focusing on ordinary people who are often overlooked. The poems have a conversational rhythm, making them easy to read because of the skill deployed in choice of words. They are as compelling as a gossiped confession but show compassion rather than malice. Readers are asked to empathise and laugh with their subject, not at it. “Hex” is a collection to return to and dip in.