‘There are two kinds of people in the audience tonight: people who already know the pleasures of Kerry Hammerton’s poems, and the lucky souls who don’t know what a treat lies ahead of them.
We love Kerry because she is that most rare and wonderful of things, an entertaining poet. She is witty, by which I mean she is brief, twisted, playful, ironic, pointed, satirical, and a complete mistress of the punchline. She smacks her messages across the court at you like a poetic Navratilova:
These are the Lies I told you
I will love you forever
You are important to me
We will always be friends
Wit looks so easy on the page – we gulp it up the instant it is created and demand more. We make the mistake of thinking that wit is effortless because it feels so quick, so throwaway, so spur-of-the-moment, so tossed off. But in fact wit requires daring – it requires an act of courage to write a poem that completely destroys a man’s reputation without using any word you’ll find in a dictionary as Kerry does in “Once I knew” – the man was after all, a flirst, a flowel, a cheddle, a jost, a brister, a basfitter, a verter..
The wit that will delight you in These are the lies I told you is an immense technical skill – to write as Kerry does, you need to be alert to the possibilities of language, to the unexpected connections between things, to the devastating effects that can be achieved by a sudden change of tone, a surprise juxtaposition, by the exerting of the mind over the emotions.
There is the poem where Kerry starts dictating her phone number to a lover who hasn’t returned her call; the poem where she answers her niece’s question as to how babies are made and goes way beyond mommy’s egg and daddy’s seed; the poem where she reflects on the men on her wish list – the one with a tall stride, the one with berry brown legs, the one with a six-pack, the millionaire, the genius — and then ends with devastating bathos: And I got you.
Above all, Kerry is a love poet. Here too, I need to say something about her rarity. There is no shortage of love poetry in the world, but the vast majority of it has been written by men. It’s something of a taboo for women to write openly about love, to write non virginal poems set among rumpled sheets or at post-coital breakfast tables. Kerry is not just the anthropologist of the sexual relationship, she is its policeman and its pathologist. She is as good at writing luscious, indulgent, hedonistic, sugar-plum falling in love poems as she is at the lacerating face-smack that accompanies the end of love:
You poke an indifferent
Finger into my exposed
Speak in funny voices and then fart, belch,
As if I wasn’t in the room.
I love the catalogue of negatives in her poem “Love” –
No passionate kisses. No hello.
No goodbye. No slow sex. No fighting
For the duvet in winter. No fighting.
No crazy dancing at one a.m. on drunken
City streets. No marriage proposal.
No mother-in-law. No house.
No Labrador. No fast sex. No sex.
It has been an absolute pleasure to pretend to teach Kerry. Her poems have been a highlight of every workshop and though she has graduated, I hope she never leaves.
Kerry has to do something nearly impossible tonight. She has to decide what to read to you. What will she leave out? There are no duds, no boring poems in this collection. These are the lies I told you is just like Kerry – utterly disarming. Buy 5 copies and give them as gifts.
Everything I said on the blurb is true. These are the truths I told you.’
Finuala Dowling at the launch of These are the lies I told you on Monday 22 November, The Book Lounge, Cape Town