Winner of the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2010.
In this first collection from Hilary Menos, icebergs floating down the Thames jostle with transvestites in Singapore, aliens wading the Hudson River and the lively crew from the local slaughterhouse. We go shopping with Ingomar the barbarian and watch Bernard Manning gigging at Totnes Civic Hall. Other poems are populated with characters from fiction; we step off the cartoon cliff with the Road Runner, join Iggle Piggle in a subverted Night Garden, and hitch a lift with the micro-crew on their Fantastic Voyage.
Throughout, Menos brings a sophisticated sensibility to her poetry. Her subjects are seen aslant, with ironic as well as tender intentions. She ranges from the intimate and local to the ambitious and far flung, with poems that capture ‘elsewhere’ set in Paris and Havana and New York, and mini ‘ecological’ epics, often in the voice of an invented persona, alongside poems about geese and babies and farming life in rural Devon.
“This is someone who reflects an expert at work but has their own vivid way of seeing and acting.” – Ruth Padel
“…crackles with formal skill, with extraordinary, vibrant language … and with great style …” – Carol Ann Duffy
“She has the rare ability to uncover the wide range of implications of the world we live in, be they emotional, spiritual or literary. Here is a new poet with a full locker of accomplishments. She is sure to make an immediate impact.” – John Stammers
Listen to Hilary Menos read her poem, ‘Extra Maths’:
Review from Gwales
Although she has been successful in many high profile poetry competitions and anthologies, this is Hilary Menos’s first full-length collection. It is a most thought-provoking and entertaining one. While there are very personal poems like the concluding ‘Wish’ for her child and several memories of her father, she also enters into worlds of fiction and fantasy with sharp detail and humour. She may transport us to Cuba or Uzekistan but always for the human contact; the story rather than the scenery. She can be shocking, tender and very funny. This collection introduces a strong, original voice. Caroline Clark, Gwales review
Review from The Warwick Review
Menos has a working relationship with the landscape – she runs a 100-acre organic farm and there’s more than a nod towards Heaney, I suspect, in her farmyard poems describing a cow stuck in shit, or slaughterhouse. Menos’ images come out of modern rural life where there’s a specialist in cow pregnancies and a bolt through the head ends a life. But she goes further, too, delivering slanting social commentary with a bite – sometimes quietly ironic, sometimes documentary and sometimes philosophical. Her title poem, for example, joins an emerging metaphorical language of climate change. She changes channels quickly and is as confident dealing with delivery of a calf in a poem, as Bernard Manning. Yes! ‘Bernard Manning Plays Totes Civic Hall’ is hilarious because she makes it alright to mock alternative culture by having the last laugh in that self depreciating English way. Menos has attracted a lot of attention and praise from Ruth Padel, Carol Ann Duffy and John Stammers. Certainly this sharpness and almost comic eye makes her very modern. She’s brave, too. One poem is simply the ingredients on a ready-made tiramisu. So clearly there is a political dimension to her work, as there is to ‘Berg’, which ends with the beautiful simile of broken off bits of ice berg floating down the Thames, firstly like brides, then like each one viewed more closely as a mad woman; “holding the flowered / hem of her ancient slip too high up her pale thighs..” Menos is good value. The poem before ‘Berg’ in the collection is a fantasy of shopping with Ingomar the Barbarian and in her view of modern life she reminds me of Catherine Smith, another poet with a great sense of odd and outrageous. I don’t imagine I’ll forget ‘One for sorrow’, a poem about superstition, because it is so ludicrous and yet so tied to an instinctive desire to salute the single magpie. Jackie Wills, The Warwick Review, Vol IV, March 2010
Review from Eyewear Blog
Menos's voice is very Padelesque: wild exoticism blunted with the rudeness of the modern urban world... Charlotte Newman, Eyewear Blog 21/08/2010
Review from The North
Hilary Menos' Berg is a cracking read. Familiar with her work from 2005/Doorstop pamphlet Extra Maths I was expecting variety, humour and confident use of form and I wasn't disappointed. There are lovely poems about faring and motherhood but there are also new ones about sex, death, moving house. LRB's personal ads, global warming, tiramisu, Iggle-piggle and Bernard Manning. Menos takes us to the dentist, the supermarket, the slaughter house, the lunatic asylum and from Moscow to Havana, always with a sureness of touch and exciting use of language.
I felt it was a really unusual first collection and one which I enjoyed from cover to cover.
Some of the most enjoyable poems, for me, were those in which the writer takes us on a flight of fancy. They also have great titles... and in another favourite, 'Off My Trolley', the speaker has Ingomar the barbarian as her shopping buddy 'advising her on barbarian cuisine' and coming to the conclusion that:
compared to barbarian it's sheer fucking hell,
especially the queues, give the branding or besieging any day
Elsewhere the humour is darker. In 'Slaughterhouse' the poet comments on our attitude to the elderly and dying ('weeks of too few visits, then too many') comparing the human experience unfavourably to the cow's 'gentle nudge out the truck... and the captive bolt's blind kiss'.
Carole Bromley, The North, No.46