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This review is taken from PN Review 219, Volume 41 Number 1, September - October 2014.

Into Dark Woods selima hill, The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism (Bloodaxe Books) £9.95

Over the last thirty years, Hill’s prolific, award-winning writing has increasingly focused on exploring how gender is shaped within intimate relationships, presented in sequences of short free-verse poems that typically form a narrative when read in succession. The Sparkling Jewel of Naturism is divided into three separate sequences that are conversant with one another, and indeed Hill’s oeuvre; she repeatedly returns to themes and motifs, often with increasing resonance (although, in isolation, they may appear arbitrary to new readers). Hill’s straightforward tone belies her sophisticated negotiation of gender, foregrounding an insidious force that operates within intimate relationships – motivated by shame, anger, claustrophobia and desire – demonstrating how our gendered selves emerge in relation to others. These concerns are traced through childhood in ‘Doormat’, adolescence in ‘Happiness is Just a Waste of Time’ and married life in ‘Blowfly’.

‘Doormat’ is narrated by a young girl with a ‘funny nose / and funny yellow ringlets’ whose shame is palpable when compared with her ‘beautiful’ sister. The only adult mentioned is an unidentified male whose presence informs both sisters’ emerging understanding of femininity in ‘Silk’:

Everybody thinks you’re really sweet.
They love the way he dresses you in silk.

You stare at him with your staring eyes.
You and he are repellent to me.

To be dressed in silk feels unsettlingly sensual, particularly as dresses represent the projection of desire onto the body in Hill’s work. The sister’s passive acceptance and wide-eyed expression paradoxically evoke ...

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