Poetry Review: Pamper Me to Hell and Back by Hera Lindsay Bird

Pamper Me to Hell and Back by Hera Lindsay BirdPamper Me to Hell and Back is full of confessional, provocative and occasionally explicit poems, written in a conversational style with a bleak outlook on life. This is Hera Lindsay Bird’s second collection, and its sardonic tone reminded me of Sylvia Plath, with an undercurrent of Victoria Wood. Many of the poems are surreal, whilst some feel more like Facebook posts, and others seem designed to be performed as spoken word.   

The book begins with a prose poem entitled ‘Bruce Willis you are the ghost’ which left me feeling slightly confused and rather bemused at the same time:

It’s not because your wife doesn’t love you. It’s because you died and now you’re a ghost and she can’t hear you talking to her.

This sets the scene for a collection which is both humorous and disconcerting, light-hearted and satirical. It also reveals the underlying themes of mortality, love and the relentless monotony of life.

This is not the kind of poetry that I normally read, and I must admit to being put-off initially by the more explicit and provocative lines. However, once I began to re-read the poems, I found that there is something irresistible in Bird’s style. Perhaps it is the interminable onslaught of surprising (almost ridiculous) imagery, or the self-deprecating humour that runs throughout. Whatever it is, there is something unique and a little bit addictive in these poems. They reflect a twenty-first-century sense of despair, and a desire to liven-up life, knowing what’s wrong with the world, but unable to see a way to resolve it, except by making fun of it. This is clear particularly in ‘Waste my Life’:

life is great
it’s like being given a rare and historically significant flute
and using it to beat a harmless old man to death with

Other poems seem to be anti-love poems. ‘I will already remember you for the rest of my life’ appears to reflect on the difficulty of forgetting previous relationships – a depressing reality of modern life, in which a series of short term relationships has become the norm.

There are some more straightforward love poems too. ‘I want to get high my whole life with you’ is a humorous take on the silliness and amazement of love, including lines such as ‘so what if I love you so much I am becoming stupid’ and ending with:

I want to get really good at woodwork
and go into the forest
and cut up some logs
and make you a beautiful house to live in

Other poems, such as ‘I am so in love with you I want to lie down in the middle of a major public intersection and cry’, seem more like poems about lust than love, with lines such as ‘your naked back in the mirror / has cured at least 3-4 major diseases’.

I enjoyed reading the last three poems, which have a more serious undertone, whilst still being light-hearted and full of humour. ‘I have come back from the dead to tell you that I love you’ is a beautiful, funny love poem, whilst ‘Untitled 404’ is written in response to a Cindy Sherman photograph, exploring feminism and systems of belief:

Sometimes I wonder if it’s ethical to be a woman at all
It’s a great stupidity to waste your life on right-seeming behaviour
Like putting a coin in a jukebox that only plays whale song

I like this picture because it reminds me of loneliness
And the great, unspecific boredom of life

This ‘unspecific boredom’ seems to encapsulate the mood of the whole collection, implying a lack of hope or belief in anything.

The book ends with ‘Pyramid scheme’, a humorous take on misunderstanding economic terminology, which contrasts beautifully against the more depressing poems, painting a scene of domestic bliss, albeit in a post-modern, drunken sense. The collection is one of those selected by the Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy for the ‘Laureate’s Choice’ range, published by The Poetry Business. It’s not what I’d normally choose to read, but it certainly has an existential kick to it.

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Declaration: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher.

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