Hotel by Ali Lewis

-Reviewed by Karen Goodwin-

Stepping into the pages of Ali Lewis’ debut pamphlet Hotel, a long corridor of rooms, poems that open into secret narratives, we encounter whispered truths, the conversations we were not supposed to hear.

Take the stunning poem ‘Corridor’ which runs central to the collection and binds it with a recurring motif:

She hated the way he repeated himself 
along corridors like a bad hotel carpet,
and how, like a bad hotel carpet, he’d wait,
impatient at the bathroom door
so he could start up again when she emerged.

In this domestic noir, the carpet itself becomes abusive, following her from the hall to the bedroom, a threshold she has to cross and recross, finally muffling her voice. It’s a chilling read.

Relationships are covert, revelatory and binding, and we are witness to some dirty truths. In the opening poem ‘Pressure’ the reader is complicit in a couple’s collusion as they deal with the bloody aftermath of a road accident. Caught in a moment of heightened emotion, speeding along in their car listening to Rubber Soul, they hit a pheasant “so clean and hard it pops.” The sudden horror and practicality of having to deal with roadkill at the service station takes a darker turn, as they clean blood off the headlights:

                                   You keep watch
tell me shaking I would do this with you
i would do this with you if we killed a man

Elsewhere, relationships are held up to the light and examined for faults and imperfections. ‘Fractal Date’ is a call and response between a couple, where the answers, far from being reassuring, are gnomic and vague. 

When he questioned how long she thought it would last,
she answered that coastlines get longer
the more closely you measure them

We fall deeper into the poem’s frustration as the object of desire falls further and further from view. These are philosophical, inquiring poems that neatly describe the pitfalls of intimacy. I particularly enjoyed ‘Expanding Universe’ which uses space on the page as breath to describe a date night gone stale.

                  a bowling ball squeezes
between pins    the ice cubes in my glass
won’t chatter     

And later, the same couple wake after not having sex, the space on the page is the space between them, a disrupted intimacy from which they can’t recover. It’s beautifully done.

                        outside  the birds are evenly spaced
 directionless     I want to ask you     how can 
everything move further from everything else?
but you’re very small now     and as close
to other people     as you are to me

In ‘The Diamond Cutter’ an act of adultery is examined for fault lines under an eyeglass, with a pathological coolness.

Coming home one afternoon, the diamond cutter
saw his absent lover’s hand grafted to the wrist 
of a stranger in the market

The violence at the end of the poem is graphic and shocking, “one sweat dawn, chisel to hand, he found the hidden, octahedral plane and brought his mallet down.” 

There is a light-hearted and self-caricaturing look at ‘The Englishman’ (barbecues, leering at barmaids, handshakes). The entitlement of masculinity is everywhere felt in this collection, and though parodied here, it’s a little too on the nose for my taste. That aside, it’s a strong debut, beautifully produced by Verve Poetry Press, and its crisp cover and acid brights make it a handsome read too.