London Grip Poetry Review – Ali Lewis

Poetry review – HOTEL: Julie Hogg finds promise in a first collection by Ali Lewis

Ali Lewis
Verve Press
ISBN: 978 1 912565 29 0
36pp   £7.50

A title can often prove seductive to a linguist and Ali Lewis’ Hotel is no exception. As I was awaiting the arrival of this debut pamphlet, I mused about eclectic zoom rooms of poems; anticipating each checking-in with an air of flair, intrigue and panache. Published by Birmingham based Verve Poetry Press in their experimental pamphlet series, these nineteen poems over twenty-six pages of poetry sashay in to startle the eyebrows of any concierge. Satisfyingly, each one effortlessly fulfils its purpose like a seasoned traveller.

the road clear the day once-in-a summer
hot the car light with just the two of us
shirts slung around our necks seatbelts off
singing to rubber soul on cassette and flying 
eighty eighty-five downhill when we hit
the pheasant so clean and hard it pops

Omission of punctuation enhances exhilaration and within the first stanza of the first poem ‘Pressure’ I am riding alongside the poet, who is unequivocally in the driving seat, through dangerous territory and in uneasy dependence. Any sense of escapism has been lost and the reader is complicit, an accomplice no less. All that’s left, in true Hughes style, is a little goblin of the pheasant popping followed by pressure washing blood away:

                          while you keep watch
tell me shaking i would do this with you 
i would do this with you if we killed a man

Herein lies the strength of Lewis’ poetry, perfectly timed space for the reader to conjure up movement, gesture, facial expression and posture from a chosen lexis. Once within this pleasantly contemplative state, the reader’s expanding internal narrative is often sideswiped or abruptly clipped, as in ‘Putting the World Away’

    seagulls caught mid-flap & stacked
like white plastic lawn chairs

and then spun around on a fun-loving new trajectory. This poem’s specific surreal imagery skips along magnificently, the world curling up: “the two of us bedded down / tessellated” and, once again, the reader is lost, this time in intimacy. An exquisitely, perfectly complementing poem, both in form and content, faces this, ‘Expanding Universe’

    on date night    a bowling ball squeezes
between pins    the ice cubes in my glass 
won’t chatter    the train home is late

Lewis closely observes power relationships which are often overtly or subversively, but always fascinatingly, explored in this collection: “He promised me we’d never switch. / He’s afraid to die and I’m afraid to kill” (‘Making Love to the Knife Thrower’); “Simone, who was fine-tuning a ruinous argument” (‘S&M’); “or say for certain where she stopped and the miscreant began” (‘The Diamond Cutter’).

‘Fractal Date’ is a tricksy restaurant conversation delight:

When he questioned how long she thought it would last,
she answered that coastlines get longer
the more closely you measure them,
that attention to detail is a form of infinity, 

The poet continues to expand and contract experiences inherent in this work which include the fate of rhizomes and flowering plants in the hemp family, waterparks and self-sufficiency. ‘The Best Thing About Falling,’ is a short poem which in a masterly way creates falls to feel like an eternity. Lewis always tenses and relaxes each component of these poems pertinently so that the languid and the vital balance the tone with precision and with astute forethought. Some poems capture current political zeitgeist – for instance ‘The Past,’ ‘The Englishman’ a nd ‘Carpet,’ “and how, like a bad hotel / carpet, his pattern seemed to mask / all the dirt.”

Highly recommended, Hotel leaves me checking out with keenness and anticipation to read further poetry by Ali Lewis; for, surely, this firmly establishing pamphlet is a prequel for a future collection to be written.

Julie Hogg