Knees and never-endings

P.B. Hughes, Girl, falling (Gatehouse Press, 2019)


Girl, falling is a powerful collection of small moments and monumental thoughts. Varied and vivifying, the poems are fresh and innovative. The pamphlet inhabits a fragmentary space, aware of its own limitations but never ceasing to fight. The voice is vulnerable but assured, well-humoured yet urgent.

Hughes writes about writing with great sensitivity. In ‘The Writing Project’, she sets herself a Borgesian task: ‘You resolved to write and write until you’d written every word in the dictionary at least once’. The challenge highlights a desire for completeness which is never quite fulfilled. Indeed, the poet’s exuberance for words breaks down entirely in ‘Distance to the Ground’: ‘on my knee/ at the computer you wrote the letter K over and over’.

The language is at times haunting, at times beautiful, but never static. The poet describes herself and her surroundings with flare and relish: the tree ‘wore apples like smiles’ (‘Tree’) and ‘my arms are the plane’s wings’ (‘things i give my lover’). Sound is navigated with nuance. In ‘Diaspora’ we are encouraged not to take sound for granted: ‘Listening is more than inhabiting sound’. In a poem about refugees, such imagery of domestic instability hits the reader hard.

Like an escalator that goes round and round, the linguistic games repeat and accumulate. Sound is intrusive and hard to block out; similarly, the reader is urged not to ignore the plight of refugees. Loss and isolation recur, but so do knees and water, testament to Hughes’ careful balancing of mind and body, personal and political. Personality crashes into obligation in ‘Falling’, where a girl teeters on the edge of a swimming pool ‘in a body she was required/ to hate’.

The poem is an ever-evolving space, both welcoming and worrying. A balanced and skilful pamphlet, Girl, falling is an agglomeration of language and change. Each poem is confined but dynamic, fixed yet fleeting, like ‘snowflakes shaken in/ a snow globe’ (‘escalator’).


P.B. Hughes, Girl, falling (Gatehouse Press, 2019). Available here.

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