Selima Hill

Selima Hill’s most recent collection is The Magnitude of My Sublime Existence.

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 14 July 2016

My Mother’s Mattress

Upstairs, in the heat, beside the handkerchiefs, my mother’s navy-blue horsehair mattress

still, although it’s August, smells of damp, of horses in the hush of damp forests,

of Spassky, still a child, playing chess all day long, with nobody, in silence –

Spassky, whose seductive ingenuity my mother has no need to understand.

Eerie Bittern...

Poem: ‘Orchids’

Selima Hill, 23 April 1992

The aeroplane must have been there for several weeks. A few birds were absent-mindedly picking through the mangled remains of small children, and a gold dog ran in and out of the empty cabin, cradling a spotted quince in its mouth. The man we were looking for was lying on a day-bed under a red tree. He seemed to be having some problem with his skin, and was wearing a pair of white silk gloves...

Three Poems

Selima Hill, 7 March 1991

I have never been to Africa

I have never been to Africa – I’ve only seen it from an aeroplane and longed to go there – it looked like a giant peach, half-asleep, gracefully draped in a dried civet-cat skin someone had sewn bells and teeth onto, and small figures made of ivory that carry miniature gongs and miniature hoes –

so no, I’ve never been to Africa, and...

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 12 July 1990


‘“Possible titles: HAPPINESS: GRIEF: MY CROW.” That’s what it said, in tiny screwed-up handwriting that only I could follow, and maybe her mother, who wrote her the long intriguing letters I was on my word of honour not to read. We used to come up here most afternoons. Stacey would sit on her pillow, and, taking a lock of white hair between her fingers, would...

Poem: ‘The Hare’

Selima Hill, 4 May 1989

Beside the river in the dead of night, a cry, and then another, like a spell, turns the darkened beeches into light, the silence of the woods into a bell; and in the cottage on the moonlit hill a woman shivers in her narrow bed to hear the hare; and then the hare is still; she feels its ginger paws against her head, its dusty fur, like ghostly butterflies that fall in winter from the...

Poem: ‘Mother Stone’

Selima Hill, 12 November 1987

My father was a tall man who approved of beating, but my mother, like a mother stone, preferred us to be sitting in a small room lined with damson-coloured velvet thinking quietly to ourselves, undisturbed; everything was slow and beautiful when we were being punished: all we had to do was watch the dark-red petals’ roses press against each other in a slight breeze on the window pane, and...

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 7 November 1985

Not all the women of England

At the top of the bank a black airman is doing sit-ups in the tenderest of early-morning sun. I want to squash him flat. He’s like my Uncle Pat’s gold cigarette-case that flies open when you touch it.

You cruise along the fence with your elbow on the rolled-down window-edge. Everything you come near falls to bits.

The cattery sells bedding plants and...

Poem: ‘Making for Open Country’

Selima Hill, 19 July 1984

I step into the autumn morning like a first Communicant and ride off down the lane, singing. Across the frosty fields someone is mending fences knock knock knock and a twig that’s caught in my bicycle spokes tinkles like a musical box. The village smells of wood-ash and warm horses. Shining crows rise into the sky like hymns ...

I have to pass the church where my father was buried....

Two Poems

Selima Hill, 15 March 1984

Outside a Tent at Babylon, 1909

‘Are you ready?’ calls the German archaeologist, standing with his back to the sun. ‘We need to see the tent behind you.’ Gertrude Bell steps over the guy-ropes. She’s got a horrible cold – caught by lying in a draughty hall drawing the plans of Ukheidir.

‘When I ask my men,’ she explains, ‘to help me...

Poem: ‘Chicken Feathers’

Selima Hill, 2 June 1983


What a picture! She has tucked her wild-looking chicken under her arm and stares out over what seems to be a mountain pass on a windy day. She is wearing a blue linen dress the colour of summer. She reminds me of Brünnhilde – alone, bronzed, unfamiliar. She doesn’t look like anybody’s mother.


She used to love dancing. She went to the Chelsea Ball dressed as a...

Poem: ‘Below Hekla’

Selima Hill, 10 January 1983

I appear like a bird from nowhere. I have a new name. I am as clean as a whistle. I beat the buttermilk in big while bowls until it is smooth. I wash the pearly plates under the tap, and fifty canvas bumpers and fifty socks. They drip in the sun below grey mountains like the moon’s.

Each night I lift the children in their sleep and hold out the china pot for them: ‘Wilt thu pissa,...

Poem: ‘A Voice in the Garden’

Selima Hill, 2 September 1982

‘Your uncle’s here!’ my mother called, ‘Are you ready?’ The taxi was waiting to take us to our weekly swimming lessons. I drove through Marylebone like a VIP, my immaculate uncle close beside me, smelling of soap and peppermint ... He crouched on the edge of the pool and shouted ‘One, two!One, two!’as I struggled with the water like a kitten. I kept...

Poem: ‘Charlotte’

Selima Hill, 4 March 1982

She comes into the garden to take the washing in. She raises her arms

to her husband’s shirts like a worshipper, and then she makes a lovely pile of them.

Wings, sails, copes, you are folded and ready to be ironed ...

And now she stands, becalmed, with the cold washing cradled in her arms.

Poem: ‘Private View’

Selima Hill, 20 August 1981

I am the wife of the man who won first prize. I am not wearing my new shoes which, though smarter, are not as comfortable as these. I must stand well. ‘He’s a very sensitive guy. I’d really like to meet him.’ ‘Yes, he’s obviously been through a lot ...’

Because the paint is spread so thick the paintings look like toast. Shoals of visitors move in and...

Neil Corcoran confronts the new recklessness

Neil Corcoran, 28 September 1989

For a writer who several years ago published a ‘Manifesto Against Manifestoes’, James Fenton has published his fair share of manifestoes, including a disguised one for a...

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John Kerrigan, 13 October 1988

August is the cruellest month, breeding tailbacks on the Dover Road and logjams in every departure lounge. Travel reverts to travail, stirring dull roots in trepalium – that classical...

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Tropical Storms

Blake Morrison, 6 September 1984

Johnson’s Imlac, urging that the poet neglect the ‘minuter discriminations’ of the tulip leaf in favour of ‘general properties’, has been unpopular for two hundred...

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