These are the Lies I told you
by Kerry Hammerton
(Modjaji Books, R135)
This debut collection of poetry by Kerry Hammerton is a bumper one, numbering just under 60 poems – an impressive number, and more than the average length of a poetry collection.
I like that, though. I like the fact that I felt I could truly enter into Hammerton’s world through the sheer volume of work here.
It’s a particular world, told in a particular voice – a sharp, fun, sassy voice.
In Hammerton’s hands, her poetry ranges over the themes of relationships, of that often difficult thorn-strewn path of love gained, and then love lost.
But it’s Hammerton’s amusing, wry funny voice that is such a delightful surprise here. Hammerton plays with the medium, subverting it just about, producing poetry that is often amusing, sometimes a little droll and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny.
The risks the poet takes and the obvious play is refreshing.
Which is not to say that Hammerton doesn’t venture into darker, more shadowy territory. Even when she does, humour lurks beneath even the more obviously “serious” poems.
Here’s the short poem Luck – and the irony’s all in the title as well as the last line:
It is such amazing luck you said,/bumping into you again./And again./And again./I think that you keep turning up/like a bad penny.”
The poem that follows is just as wry, and belongs in a stand-up routine.
In Undergarments, we’re introduced to: Bra, panties, you’re in my fantasy./Garters, stockings, it’s really quite shocking./Negligee, teddy I’m quite ready./Silk, satin, let’s make it happen./Whips? Mask? Maybe we’re going too fast.
In the delightful love poem On Realising I’m in Love With You, we laugh with the narrator as she recounts what she wanted out of a relationship, from a man with a tall stride to a long-haired surfer with a six-pack, or a millionaire: I am sure my ad said:/‘must love dogs’./And I got you.
But it’s not all play and fun. In the poignant poem You Taught Me, the narrator learns many things, such as: You taught me to be naked./Wake up and tumble out of bed,/breasts swaying, make coffee/serve you a topless breakfast.
But she also learns, in the bitter-sweet last stanza, that: You taught me that a married/man never leaves his wife.
In Survival, a short, quiet poem, the sea beckons me into/its soft death and only the irresolution between the couple keeps my feet in my shoes.
And in All the things I don’t know how to do such as Haggle in the fish market/…run with the bulls… Hold my breath, the most obvious lack is that the narrator doesn’t know how to Warm the silence between us.
In Diary of a Relationship, Hammerton again plays with the form, charting a relationship’s progress through the illusory confines of a week that stretches to encompass the whole relationship: On Wednesday it was confetti… On Friday we travelled overseas… On Sunday I woke up,/forty years old, single/again, you becoming,/a dad for the first time.
And finally, the title poem of the collection says it all. In These are the Lies I Told You, three lines do justice to the heartbreak of failed love and cut promises: I will love you forever./You are important to me./We will always be friends.
It’s not a new theme – the sometimes tortured landscape of love – but Hammerton’s subtly playful journey in this collection is amusing, refreshing and extraordinarily entertaining.