Holly Magill, The Becoming of Lady Flambé, Indigo Dreams Publishing, 2018. ISBN: 978-1-910834-86-2. £6.80.
The Becoming of Lady Flambé is Holly Magill’s debut pamphlet, published by Indigo Dreams Publishing in 2018. This fierce and feisty collection of poems tells a wonderfully quirky narrative of how the character Lady Flambé came to be, beginning with her childhood, growing up in a travelling circus.
Based around many members of the circus, The Becoming of Lady Flambé features stand-out characters with wildly vivid personalities, and Magill explores the unconventional family dynamic that exists between them. Each poem typically moves from character to character building the jigsaw puzzle of the plot, line by line, poem by poem. The overall effect is nothing short of compelling, as piece by piece the reader builds up a sense of each individual character, and their relationship to the rest of the group.
From struggling clowns, to fire-eaters, the eclectic range of characters makes this about much more than one person. For example, Jolly-Boy the clown is voiced in the poem, ‘I’m mad, me’:
The shower’s spittle-stream sluices me away
with the perspiration – I evaporate
with the steam on the mirror until
I am gone and the voices
can only cackle at nothing.
I’m mad, me.
The clever narrative gives the pamphlet the definite feel of a story. We move through the young Flambé’s childhood, from her being teased, to her first kiss, and her rebellious later years. Through these very real moments Magill makes this unconventional character wholly believable, and oddly relatable.
Magill explores the trials the young Flambé faces in finding her place and purpose within the circus. A set of comically tragic events makes this all the more difficult for Flambé, and the reader finds themselves simultaneously feeling delight and pity as they move through the pamphlet. From elephantine accidents –
A big grey bum is reversing
towards me, like the lorries at Tesco,
but without the beeping noises.
– My earliest memory
To conflicted family drama –
Never, ever call The Ring Master Dad.
– Things I learn
Magill’s carefully crafted lines often have climactic endings, shocking the reader, or revealing another aspect of Flambé’s life, thoughts, and experiences. Similarly, the sequencing of the poems plays a major role in keeping the narrative alive, as well as Magill’s ability to ground the unfamiliar world of circus performance in a world of humanising emotions, relationships and hardship.
The hindsight of the adult Flambé gives the poems a seriousness which is, at times, close to chilling:
Always smile at Social Workers;
it’s not their fault.
– Things I learn
The reader gets the feeling that Flambé was never far from some form of danger, whether physical, or emotional. Her adult recollections of her younger self’s revelations serve to reinforce the knife-edge nature of her childhood, as Magill weaves the voice of the adult Flambé with those of other characters to provide a multi-perspective account of Flambé’s history.
One aspect of Flambé’s character that is particularly captivating is her fierce nature. The poem, ‘No one tells me not to’ is an excellent example of Flambé’s love of the freedom so many other young people aren’t granted:
I get none of the hassle normal
girls have to squirm around.
Be home by ten, or else. Careful
who you talk to. Don’t let men buy
you drinks and you mustn’t get into
anyone’s car. Always make sure
we know where you are.
Get back to your room, no daughter of mine…
I go out Looking Like That.
And I fucking love it.
Magill also allows us to see Flambé flourishing through the eyes of other characters, such as Bella in the poem ‘Bella sees’:
you are juggling
your own punch-line,
breathing new flames.
Ultimately, The Becoming of Lady Flambé is a fantastic pamphlet that tells a story of growing up, fighting your corner, and being who you are. Magill intermingles raw emotion with strong and poignant humour, making these poems a truly entertaining and compelling read.
You can buy The Becoming of Lady Flambé here.
Beth O’Brien (she/her) is a third year English Literature student at the University of Birmingham. She has published poems with Foxglove Journal and Nine Muses Poetry, and is a reviewer for Mad Hatter Reviews.She has also written articles for sheswanderful.com and the Graduate Recruitment Bureau blog