Hammond gives voice to bullied but unbowed, says David Bryant
The Story of No by Emma Hammond (Penned in the Margins, £9.99)
THE POLITICAL playwright Howard Brenton once said that if there was a joke in one of his plays, the audience should beware — it probably meant that a dead dog would follow.
That’s equally applicable to Emma Hammond’s second collection of poems The Story of No, which combines humour and apparent flippancy with the same dark punch.
Unlike Brenton, Hammond favours a surreal and reflective approach. She has said that this book reflects the fact that “modern life bullies you. My mother was bullied by convention, status and expectation.” And this collection finds multiple ways of confronting and peeling away the different layers of bullying. Dream-like Alice in Wonderland ideas swim past the reader’s eyes, only to rapidly evaporate.
This isn’t slo-mo, deep-sleep surrealism but as rapid-fire and relentless as the modern world itself.
It’s an approach which doesn’t stop Hammond from striking numerous targets, however. Tax (which can be read here), about a single mother’s visit to the jobcentre begins: “What about these Dinner Lady positions?” and goes on to dissect the judgement of others with a visceral disgust: “Should’ve had an abortion — gin/coat hanger then straight back to your desk on Mundee.”
The ironically titled Equality describes sex workers from different cultural backgrounds, borrowing the crass language of internet spam, while Thinkpiece uses the media’s treatment of Renee Zellweger’s face as a hilarious critique on mainstream comment-page insight.
As well as being a rush through a hall-of-mirrors distortion of modern life and the unresolved arguments of feminism, The Story of No also contains tenderness, especially in Hammond’s reflection on her mother’s death in Utility.
For all its experimentation this collection remains truthful, unexpectedly accessible and even beautiful — however often it dips its pen into a pitch-black inkwell.