(REVIEW) the blue room by Eloise Hendy
In this review, Alice Hill-Woods prises open the cool, enticing tones of Eloise Hendy’s debut pamphlet the blue room (Makina Books, 2019).
> I place a Dulux Sapphire Springs paint colour palette alongside the blue room to see if there’s a match: there isn’t. This is what blueness can boast – that it is always multi-hued, a rhizome of feeling and doing. Eloise Hendy’s debut pamphlet, published by Makina Books for their New Words series, indulges this truth over twenty-two pages. Her bright and broad imaginings disrupt verse’s dreaminess, slapping a splash your way to bring you back into the glistering present.
> The collection is spectacularly constellated: each poem occupies a single page or a double page spread, so there’s no turning for answers. In addition, the softback material feels waxy and robust, lifting open like a clam. At its natural centre – the place where the staples’ feet turn inwards – is ‘hatching plans’. Word shapes are recycled and sewn into the melancholic weave of the poem, which suits its form: couplets expand over a two-page spread, bringing a certain irony to the speaker’s awareness of ‘oh look a snowdrop oh look another failed relationship’ (l. 9). Indeed, ‘winning at very little’ (l.10) is an echo of pain ‘so winningly resilient’ (l. 5); a ‘murmur’ can be observed in both lines fifteen and sixteen; ‘rainfall’ (l. 17) precedes ‘setting off sprinklers’ (l. 22). Despite its flashing signs of accompaniment, however, this poem respires a kind of loneliness. Carving out the parameters of its cyan symbolism, it’s both rhythmic and reticent, pushing forth and pulling back like an estuary.
> Blue isn’t the only speaking hue, however. Poems ‘woman with blue languid’ and ‘living coral’ mirror each other, brief glimpses of somewhere warmer, a clime closer to summer where terracotta and tangerine dapple the conjured image. In ‘woman with blue languid’, Hendy subverts the glazed idyll of a holiday: the depiction of a hot city verges on unbearable, ‘a hot gaping skull, a lesion’ (l. 2). This makes undisputed sense, and gestures to her lyrical energy as a whole; she is unafraid of honest verse. It triggers and reckons with my own experience of days that are just too warm, when the sunlight, shattering off the remnants of a holiday town, spites an ache for something a little less predictable. The intensity of the heat causes ‘the wilting of stems’ (l. 6), and the sea is offered like an emergency exit:
i took to the water like a troglobite – my skin slouched subterranean. a crowd of dead crabs lined the shore. i tasted wing kelp, dead man’s bootlaces (ll. 7-10).
The fluctuating metre paired with end-stopped lines generate in the reader a kind of languid ambivalence; you know the waves are coming in – does it matter what length they are, or if each sounds the same as they massage the shore? Not in this swelling, sweltering diorama. Especially not if you’re a troglobite. The synonym Hendy deploys is vastly appropriate for the slimy passivity of midsummer embodiment at the apex of I-actually-think-I-need-to-have-a-lie-down. A troglobite is ‘unable to survive in the surface environment’ as geology.com reminds me: ‘to survive in the darkness, troglobites have highly-developed senses of hearing, touch and smell’ (King 2020). Perhaps Hendy’s lexis, vitalised as it is by ecological motifs and metaphors, gestures to a more primordial sensitivity, a turning inwards from the excess of decomposing vegetables and lemons that have ‘no allure’ (l. 18). This is the kind of dark ecology that Timothy Morton would be proud of.
> Nectarines, on the hand, offer a zesty beckoning towards skin and sibilance in ‘living coral’:
nectarines are crucial. it is a fact. we become all skin (ll. 1-2).
The refrain ‘we become all skin’ (ibid.) returns again in line nine. There is something remarkably seductive about the tracing of a moment; such restraint, deciding to shade towards something, but not fill it in. The neck and skin of the addressed (lover? foe?) tangles up with ‘a bruised fruit. a blister’ (l. 6). The abrasions implied by the undertone of a kind of mild, erotic threat are just enough to prompt generous imaginings. This morning I was momentarily in love with my breakfast blood orange and, uncannily, masquerading as a delicious echo, the poem’s final couplet signals the denouement of peeling a piece of fruit (or giving in to something embodied and lust-driven):
i sometimes feel skinless, and we become a reckless shade of things (ll. 15-16).
Hendy’s use of suffix ‘-less’ is subtle and sad. As OED Online poetically reiterates, ‘-less’ marks the point at which something is ‘free from the thing denoted by the first element of the compound’. There is absence and integration, blushing surfaces and a pressing across boundaries, dynamism and provocation – all held in climactic tension in sixteen lines. Hendy’s art makes readers ravenous.
> In ‘still life with salad greens’, the last poem in the pamphlet, readers are offered a sparkling, vegetal conclusion. This time, the speaker leaves ‘the skins intact’ (l. 14). It’s redolent of a spruced-up sonnet, brings the appetite for salt, sun and citrus back after a brief hiatus. Composed with stringent awareness of phonemic shapes, the speaker motions to ‘three lemons, | a jar of lady’s bedstraw, bridalwreath, jetbead’ (ll. 8-9). I savour the sounds, recognise their floral notes. Oil, ‘extra virgin’ (l. 12), and acid, ‘grapefruit notes, a dry white’ (l. 13), interact without coalescing, which contributes to the shimmering glee of the meal. It’s so easy to empathise with the speaker’s joy when envisaging the curation of a beautiful plate of food.
> Hendy’s writing prowess is accomplished and diverse, as suggested by her poems published elsewhere (see ‘play fair’ in Adjacent Pineapple and ‘afterglow’ in amberflora). As a debut pamphlet, however, the blue room is radiant in its own way: it clarifies, cuts through to the ore of things. It pirouettes with perfect balance, managing to be both inimitable and accessible and, in this regard, her style provokes a soft hunger for more. I end the pamphlet famished, emboldened, inspired, and her poems settle in the mind like a perennial necessity.
the blue room is out now and available to order from Makina Books.
Hendy, Eloise. 2018. ‘afterglow’, amberflora,<https://www.amberflora.com/issues/issue-2/eloise-hendy-afterglow/> [accessed 13 February 2020]
—. 2018. ‘play fair’, Adjacent Pineapple, <https://www.amberflora.com/issues/issue-2/eloise-hendy-afterglow/> [accessed 13 February 2020]
King, Hobart M. 2020. ‘Troglobites: Animals that Live in a Cave’ <www.geology.com/stories/13/troglobites/> [accessed 13 February 2020]
Text and Image: Alice Hill-Woods