The poems in Selima Hill’s Men Who Feed Pigeons are between two and twelve lines in length – typically they are four – and are about men but rarely about pigeons. In the opening section, alphabetically arranged, from ‘The Anaesthetist’ down to ‘The Uncle’, they take the form of small self-contained narratives. Poems like ‘The Retired Solicitor’ are almost as effective for what they don’t specify as what they do:
The man who lets me ride on his horse
has got two arms but only one hand
with which he likes to stroke the
on whose back I learn to be afraid.
Subsequent sections of the book consist of sequences, the component poems of which offer repeated views of the same man, the vignettes, observations and wry comments threaded, like beads on a string, into a more prolonged narrative. Views of an individual subject can be indulgent, loving, friendly, testy, unsettled or seemingly inconsequential: ‘I watch him wander off to the Gents/And once again I hope he’ll take ages.’ Most typically, the tone is one of bemusement or intrigue with the strangeness of these creatures with whom Hill spends so much of her time.
Taken in bulk, and this is a long collection, the style and subjects can get a little samey – there is, for instance, a surprisingly large number of poems on the subject of men’s cake-eating foibles – but Hill is perceptive and often amusing company. At its best,