“Hotel” Ali Lewis (Verve Poetry Press) – book review

Ali Lewis Hotel front cover“Hotel” is full of astutely observed poems that take an idea, play with it and arrive at a surprising conclusion. However, each poem is faithful to its own logic so the poems don’t feel surreal or as if the quirkiness has been thrown in as a distraction. In the opening poem, “Pressure”, the narrator speeding down a clear road hits a pheasant and pulls into

“the nearest petrol station pressure
wash blood from the bonnet of my car
from the headlights from underneath
the wheelarches while you keep watch
tell me shaking i would do this with you
i would do this with you if we killed a man”

Readers don’t get to know the relationship between the narrator and the person referred to as “you”, just that the second person feels the narrator and driver is too calm about washing the pheasant’s blood from the car. Then imagines the narrator/driver remaining just as calm if a man rather than a pheasant had been hit. There’s no need for the second person to “keep watch” but their paranoia keeps them stuck and escalates into whataboutery. The driver doesn’t respond, keeping busy is a way of keeping his emotions in check. This scene could become a pattern of behaviour in the relationship: one becoming emotional the other remaining stoic. A repeating pattern is also explored in “Carpet” where she pictures him as “a bad hotel carpet”,

“She hated the way she could see him
in a Rotary Club or Masons’ Grand Lodge,
and how he was, like a bad hotel carpet,
the same in the bedroom as he was in the bar,
as he was in the bedrooms of all of the others.

She hated the way he’d wait at the doorstep
if she stayed out too late, or roll, bright red,
out into the street, and how, like a bad hotel
carpet, his pattern seemed chosen to mask
all the dirt, his surface to muffle her steps.”

A man conscious of status and external image, less careful about what she thinks. Others see the surface pattern, she’s seen the dirty underlayer. He’s likes the impression of order, of routine. She wants to go out and come back at the wrong time occasionally. Although she claims to hate his habits, she doesn’t appear to be planning to leave. Perhaps his habits offer a security and familiarity. Another one concerned with image and routine is “The Englishman”

“In the bathroom, the Englishman has a cheeky
Punch cartoon, taking aim at the establishment,

and when he pisses, the Englishman aims
for the water, not the bowl. He splashes joyously.

The Englishman is not pissed, actually.
He can handle his drink, and his own affairs.

The Englishman has had an affair. He wears
a signet ring and not a wedding band.

The Englishman doesn’t signal when he changes
lanes on roundabouts or the ring road.

The Englishman is very sorry. He didn’t realise
you were in here, getting changed.”

Each couplet runs on from a word in the preceding couplet, allowing the poem to move forward and digress without the digressions becoming irritating or illogical. Each acts to reassure the Englishman that, whatever he encounters or does, he’s an all right chap underneath it all.

“Gloss” is inspired by a quote from Kay Ryan’s “Things Shouldn’t Be So Hard”, “A life should leave/ deep tracks:/ ruts where she/ went out and back”, and ends,

“How can we grieve
What is the knack?
A trick
candle that
went out and back.”

The lives of others leave imprints. Grief isn’t a single event but something that recurs when we least expect it.

In “Hotel” Ali Lewis has created an engaging, intelligent collection of poems that play with ideas and images. Each poem follows its own logic and is carefully crafted so they bear repeating reading. Like moving from one hotel room to another, the basic furniture may seem familiar but the placing is different or there’s an item in one room that wasn’t in the last, so guests are forced to look again, pay attention and notice the differences, the change in route.

“Hotel” is available from Verve Poetry Press.

Emma Lee’s The Significance of a Dress is available from Arachne Press. The link also has a trailer featuring the title poems and samples of some of the poems from the collection. It is also available as an eBook.

Emma Lee The Significance of a Dress cover image


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