Image by Maisie Hill

Selima Hill

b. 1945

I take what the world throws at me, and spin, twist, skim, fly, flip, throw it back - Selima Hill

The Most Beautiful Woman in the History of Lawn Tennis

Selima Hill

I Couldn't Stand the Smell of the Pinks

Selima Hill

Portrait of My Lover as a Spoon

Selima Hill

Portrait of My Lover as a Dress

Selima Hill

Please Can I Have a Man

Selima Hill

Why I Left You

Selima Hill

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About Selima Hill

Selima Hill is perhaps best known for her surrealism. Pierre Reverdy has said of surrealism that ‘the more the relationship between the two juxtaposed realities is distant and true [...] the greater its emotional power and poetic reality’; this certainly applies to Hill’s substantial oeuvre. Deceptively anchored in the recognisable, often so-called ‘female’ worlds of domesticity, marriage, family, the poems’ deliciously bonkers juxtapositions and non-sequiturs illuminate the emotional truth at the heart of the work.

Born in Hampstead in 1945 into a family of painters, Hill read Moral Sciences at Cambridge and now lives on the Dorset coast. A prodigiously prolific poet, her first collection, Saying Hello at the Station, was published in 1984 and she has since published fifteen further collections (including two Selected Poems). The most recent is People Who Like Meatballs (2012), shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Collection. She was a Royal Literary Fellow at the University of Exeter between 2004 and 2006.

Fiona Sampson called Hill ‘arguably the most distinctive truth-teller to emerge in British poetry since Sylvia Plath’, and indeed there are similarities in the two writers’ preoccupations and apparently confessional (to use Sharon Olds’s terminology) styles. The opening injunction in Hill’s ‘Portrait of My Lover as a Dress’ – ‘Scream / like a dress, O Lord’ – illustrates Hill’s skill in bringing disparate images uncomfortably together to create new and apt realities. Combining imperative (‘Scream’) with deference (‘O Lord’) alongside symbolically gendered language (Lord / dress), in just one line she makes sharp incisions into the fabric of gender and power – central themes throughout her work.

‘All poetry is love poetry’, Hill once commented; hers are poems in which all things – including, particularly, violence, seem to be a product of intimacy. The title of her 1997 collection Violet (which contains a passionate sequence of poems about marital betrayal), so close to ‘violent’, plays on these associations as though its ‘missing’ letter might represent the unconscious. In ‘Why I Left You’, the first poem in the recording, the place where intimacy bumps up against claustrophobia is captured in the chilling line ‘By “you” I mean me’. Hill’s reading of these poems is particularly powerful, conveying the emotional intensity of the written voice with a clipped and menacing exactness. Elsewhere in the recording she brings the poems’ narrators marvellously to life with subtle theatricality.

Despite these darker elements, the spirit of Hill’s work is playful and vivacious, exercising the imagination to its utmost. The sinister, the unsettling, the raw aspects of experience that she draws upon are balanced always by a tenderness of purpose, as in the charming conclusion to ‘Please Can I Have a Man’: ‘[…] please can I have a man / […] Who, when I come trotting in from the bathroom / like a squealing freshly scrubbed piglet / […] opens his arms like a trough for me to dive into’ – giving us a vision of love in its purest and most uncomplicated form.

Selima Hill’s recording was made at the Audio Workshop, London on 28 January 2003 and at The Soundhouse, London on 15 May 2012. The producers were Richard Carrington and Anne Rosenfeld respectively.

Selima Hill's Favourite Poetry Sayings:

"Being a writer is a bit like being a shepherd: it's quaint, people envy the solitude, but everyone knows the real money is in synthetic fibers." - Rob Long, Conversations with My Agent (1996)

"I think it is time that one gains a certain hold on sausages and haddock by writing them down." - Virginia Woolf

"My passion for accuracy may strike you as oldmaidish – but since we do float on an unknown sea I think we should examine the other floating things that come our way very carefully; who knows what might depend on it? So I'm enclosing a clipping about racoons." - Elizabeth Bishop, in a letter to Robert Lowell

"Thanks to art, instead of seeing one world, our own, we see it multiplied..." - Proust

Additional material and useful links

An interview with Selima Hill

Selima Hill talks to Lidia Vianu


2012 Forward Poetry Prize (shortlist) for <i>People Who Like Meatballs</i>
2010 Michael Marks Award for <i>Advice on Wearing Animal Prints</i>
2001 Whitbread Poetry Award, for <i>Bunny</i>
2001 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), for <i>Bunny</i>
1997 Whitbread Poetry Award (shortlist), for <i>Violet</i>
1997 T. S. Eliot Prize (shortlist), for <i>Violet</i>
1997 Forward Poetry Prize (shortlist), for <i>Violet</i>
1988 Arvon Foundation/Observer International Poetry Competition, for <i>The Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness</i>
1986 Cholmondeley Award

Selected bibliography

Saying Hello at the Station, Chatto & Windus, 1984

My Darling Camel, Chatto & Windus, 1988

The Accumulation of Small Acts of Kindness, Chatto...

A Little Book of Meat, Bloodaxe Books, 1993

Trembling Hearts in the Bodies of Dogs: New and Selected...

My Sister's Horse, Smith/Doorstop Books, 1996

Violet, Bloodaxe Books, 1997

Bunny, Bloodaxe Books, 2001

Portrait of My Lover as a Horse, Bloodaxe Books, 2002

Red Roses, Bloodaxe Books, 2006

The Hat, Bloodaxe Books, 2008

Gloria: Selected Poems, Bloodaxe Books, 2008

Fruitcake, Bloodaxe Books, 2009

Advice on Wearing Animal Prints, Flarestack, 2010

People Who Like Meatballs, Bloodaxe Books, 2012

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