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New Poetry, Fiction, Essay

Emma Lee reviews “The Becoming of Lady Flambé” by Holly Magill

Flambe front cover

Emma Lee’s most recent collection is “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, UK 2015), she co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge,” (Five Leaves, UK, 2015), reviews for The High Window Journal, The Journal, London Grip and Sabotage Reviews.

Emma blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.

 

The Becoming of Lady Flambé” Holly Magill

36 pages, £6.00 + P&P UK, ISBN 978-1-910834-86-2 

Indigo Dreams Publishing (http://www.indigodreams.co.uk/holly-magill/4594330527)

 

“The Becoming of Lady Flambé” takes readers to the circus and a liaison between an animal tamer and a bearded lady in “New arrivals” told from the viewpoint of Wayne where Steve is a baby Asian elephant,

 

Steve is awake – I need to get back, soothe him.

But the woman’s eyes

 

seethe in the dark, will not let me

 

turn away. She waits

for me to draw near, much nearer

than I’d like, before she lets me

see the thing she cradles.

 

She had it, Bella says. And this one stays.”

 

As the baby grows into a girl and as if being a redhead and unplanned wasn’t enough, Steve becomes responsible for Lady Flambé’s mangled foot and she develops ambivalence towards the elephant. It wasn’t his fault but he left her disabled. She muses on Steve in “A whole lot of horse tranquilisers” after his death,

 

“No one will tell what they do with Steve’s body;

would need an enormous hole to bury it,

like a crater on the moon.

 

There’s jokes about an almighty hog-roast,

only not a hog – I’m going vegetarian.

 

We don’t see the Ring Master for days;

empties fly from the windows of his trailer,

glass tears shatter on the hard-standing.

 

My ruined foot tingles. Wasn’t me

that did it – but I wish I had.”

 

The poem see-saws between a tenderness for the elephant and recognition of the hurt he caused. After initial disbelief there are the jokes, which Lady Flambé distances herself from, suggesting she doesn’t hate the creature who injured her. She describes the Ring Master’s grief so is sensitive to the feelings of others, but she’s also reminded that this creature damaged her. The key to her story is the lack of self-pity, which also comes through in “Things I learn”,

 

“Juggling doesn’t get you friends

at new schools. No one likes

a smart-arse.

 

How to – almost – be deaf

to yells of ‘Pikey‘ and ‘Gyppo’

and ‘Cripple’.

 

Violet-satin eye-shadow is really pretty

on other girls.

 

Always smile at Social Workers;

it’s not their fault.

 

Multi-tasking is easy – I can juggle and cry

at the same time, even in the dark.”

 

A circus can’t afford to have a member of its troupe sitting out and moping. There’s a marriage, in “A small matter”, where a “talkative Welshman called Leon” joins the circus and asks the Ring Master’s  permission, “a deal done behind red curtains.” It’s not successful as Leon is forced to leave and Lady Flambé banned from using knives. In the title poem, which is the last poem in the collection, readers see the disabled girl transform into performance,

 

“Legs stretched out – both feet bare

to the grass, the normal and the other.

People everywhere, people are smiling.

 

The tiny clay elephant tumbles loose

to my hand while I’m smirking badness

over those fried onions. A notch on its back

is threaded with a thin bootlace.

 

The creature is a small, warm weight

between my breasts as I gather

the tools of my trade:

matches, torches, accelerant, bananas.

 

I have everything I need to begin.”

 

The collection successfully uses monologues. The speaker in each poem is clear and distinct. Use of colloquial phrasing is done to convey natural dynamics and give each speaker their own voice and viewpoint. It’s a narrative sequence but each poem is capable of standing alone: Holly Magill has pulled off that balancing act of ensuring each poem can be read as a solo piece and also enabling each poem to slot into its narrative place and add to the overall story arc. “The Becoming of Lady Flambé” introduces dynamic, credible characters and grips readers’ attention by deftly crafting a story through successful handling of multiple viewpoints. Like the best circuses, it takes its base material and transmutes into a quality performance.

 

Emma Lee

 

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