An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell – Deborah Levy

Not my usual discourse at all, after exclusively reading and reviewing over sixty-six works in translation since the start of the year when I reviewed the non-fiction “I Saw a Strange Land” by Arthur Groom first published in 1950, and exclusively reviewing the non-fiction form, I’m putting up a short review of the latest poetry work from Deborah Levy, “An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell”. The reason for my diversion? This work I assisted (in my small way) getting into print, so I thought I best read it, then I thought I best make my thoughts public. And do not think that my opinion would be swayed by the fact that I helped fund this work – I’m as honest as…??? Days are too short so I don’t know what to write there…..

Deborah Levy was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize for her work “Swimming Home”  her bleak work visiting depression, mental illness and broken relationships. Her independently published work, “Black Vodka” a collection of ten short stories addressing the usual human fears as well as…broken relationships.
Her latest publication “An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell” is short, running to only 72 pages of poetry, and given some pages contain three lines of poetry, it is one you can easily read in a single sitting.
Containing two sections we have alternating poems by “He”, an unsure accountant, and “She” an angel sent to save him from the suburbs of hell.
He

Let me massage you with flower essence
Let me fry you sardines
Let me kiss your cuts and scratches better
Let me plait your saffron hair
Wings stretched East
To West and West to
East, I welcome the
Gift of your arrival
I think I have been
Waiting all my life
To try out the best
Parts of myself
Touch me.
she

my wings are tinged
with blush
beware
when I weep
there’s no stopping
this stuff
pouring
from the circles
of my soul
and i observe
that my cheeks
now itch with bumps
and welts
                i think
                                it’s
                                                pollution
One of the first obvious themes is that “He” uses capitalisation, “she” all in lower case. He is dominant, purposeful in his delivery, she melancholy and out of place in this earthly mess we have created. “she” is nature, “He” everything we have destroyed, including ourselves. “He” is domineering, “she” assured
He

I need a woman
To live for
Play the piano to
Cook and have babies with
Share a bed
An Address
To measure the sum of my self against
I’m getting on you know
I wake up in the morning
There’s a little pile of hair
On the pillow
A deciduous
I’ll drop my leaves
For you any day
I am here
In all my shedding glory
For you to
Love.
she

you want a woman
to complete
your plan but
it’s not my plan
it’s not my plan to be completed by you
i keep falling
in and out
of myself
just as i fell out of paradise
i like it that way
sometimes i don’t like it that way
for better
or worse
it’s the only way
A rescue from the “Suburbs of Hell” turns into an understanding of male/female relationships, the hell is within, a fall from paradise, does it really exist? Levy deftly gives us two distinct voices which read convincingly as male and female, something I’ve commented on numerous times here as poor examples of women writing as men and men writing as women abound. Here in a small volume we have convincing sketches of male and female, material gain and nature, ownership and freedom, shackled and flying away, trite and celebratory.

Yes a small work, which gives us humour, angst and frustration all within a short page or two. Another master work from a writer who can say so much by saying so little, one of her greatest skills, another publication where the human psyche is consolidated within a few simple words and structures. Thanks to the independent publisher & Other Stories for republishing this enjoyable revised work from 1990.

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