Reviews and comments on Consumed

Poet David Hill has been making a reputation for himself as a comic genius, and indeed, many of the poems in his new book Consumed are wickedly funny. But it’s the sentimentality, hidden deep in the chatter about globalization, that will sideswipe and eventually trap you.
- Willamette Week online

Easily digested and often unpredictably comical, Hill’s poems range from witty insights to imagined monologues. Riffing on a number of well-known characters and introducing some new ones as well, Hill provides his readers with everything from a reminiscent Romeo caught in the tedium of married life, to an overworked, underappreciated member of the Three Tenors, to the pitifully indulgent boyfriend of a London drug addict. While Hill certainly has a knack for capturing such characters, it is his ability to find the truth, and often the humor, in everyday situations that makes his poetry so enjoyable.
- PDX Magazine

Consumed with a Book
Anna T. Szabó
As I was reading David Hill's book of poetry for the first time, I noticed a moth from the corner of my eye, flying towards my wardrobe, ready to consume my small but precious array of consumerist clothes. However sentimental I am, I usually crush these insects in mid-air by clapping my hands. I very much wanted to do so this time too, but I was in the middle of a poem, by chance titled “Butterfly”, just at the line when a laughing young woman sits down near a “dusty” bachelor on the metro. I didn't want to interrupt my reading—I felt in the poem the tension of a black-and-white movie or an early verse by T.S. Eliot—so I tried to catch the moth half-heartedly with one hand, holding the book in the other.
Of course, the moth escaped and disappeared in the darkness of the room, but I, sitting in my lamp’s pool of light, managed to read through the poem and forget all about the insect while brooding on poor Albert's fate, who in the following stanza was left alone in the compartment, thinking of the women-butterflies who flit in and out of his life.
David Hill has such an observant eye that nothing escapes his attention: he knows how a bachelor's meal is prepared (“any bits with fungus on, rejected”), shows the passionate way a secret lover licks the cooking sauce off his own thumb crotch after talking to his woman on the phone (“The Other Man”), or presents an everyday scene of a party of people climbing into a car that unexpectedly turns into a Freudian dream when the man called Whistler sucks in the finger of the young woman he has just met (“Car”). These small moments cast light on repressed passion and all-consuming desire, and are as sharp as laser beams.
Love and the lack of it—these are perhaps the most important topics of a book that is full of snaps of lonely people: a lovesick thirty-nine-year-old translator who lives in his teenage bedroom and talks through the night with friends while his father, who "fought for two world powers” and survived "two kinds of prison camp”, is alone downstairs fighting death ("Deaf"); the man, just "one of many men”, old before his time, who cannot restart his life without his love ("Before Your Time"); the widower who tries to restart with his deceitful "late thrill” ("Last Love"); the aging Romeo who works at a pizzeria and is bored to death with his Juliet ("Romeo and Juliet – Free Delivery"), or all the "folks” that "say they've lost their way”, and "it bothers them a lot” ("Find a Spot"). Life consumes these everyday people that try to "move the way the music moves”, and slowly wither away in the adaptation process.
Love almost always proves to be impossible. One of the most moving poems in the volume, "Silly Dog", talks about a stray dog, a wretched pariah always longing for love and human touch, that the speaker of the poem hits accidentally with his guitar case right at the moment when he wants to stroke it – emotionally, both parties are hurt in the incident: good will is caught in the act and immediately punished. The poem "Snow" is more lenient: although complete forgiveness is impossible, still, for one moment snow, like love, turns the world into "a small, soft and silent place” for the night, although in the morning "there will be traffic-jams, / Warnings, delays, deaths of the old and the homeless, / Hooters. / In a day or two there will be pack ice, / Impossible to walk on.”
"Long an admirer, I have been prepared to be amused by David Hill's new collection of poems” writes the former American editor of the Times Literary Supplement on the cover of the book. Likewise, those who have had the luck to hear David Hill, the co-founder of the Bardroom, the almost ten-year-old English-language poetry forum in Budapest, read out his own poems here in Hungary, might find it strange to see so much melancholy in his poems. Hill is a spirited performer of his own verses, a smiling, wide-gestured young man who knows how to capture his audience's attention. His poems, always musical and elegant, are never boring, and he likes to show his face and his let his voice be heard to add to the effect – even on the cover of the book, his face appears in three different moods: one shouting, one angry and one smiling.
This range gives both lightness and darkness to the book. Hill is  capable of many tones, although his main tone is dramatic irony, wit and fun, which provokes both laughs and bitter smiles from the reader. Although the things he writes about might sometimes seem surreal, he mostly sticks to the realities of this absurdly globalized world, but the quick cuts and video clip-like editing technique reveal the underlying emptiness of our everyday life. Still, the poems are not hard to understand: they are fast-paced, hot and and urgent, like rock songs, but also provoking further readings which then show their carefully constructed architecture.
"Basically, it's about life in the modern age, and the different things people consume and are consumed by. Food and drink, love and sex, globalization” says Hill about his book in an interview. In spite of – or perhaps because of – contributing to prestigious international finance and economic magazines, David Hill is never cheated by appearances and does not believe the promises of our consumerist society:
I remember it, the future
Was always about distances.
How we would cover them (...).
Look, what's actually happened.
Instead of finding new ways to cover large spaces,
We pretend to have made the spaces smaller
With communication tools. 
(…) To think we would have become smarter – 
How stupid!

("The Future")
The topic of globalization is all the more interesting because of the first-hand impressions Hill shares with us about his travels as a writer of travel books. He shows us the two radically different faces of the modern world, both chillingly familiar to the Hungarian reader: one is the post-socialist landscape with hotels "where the red tap doesn't work, / And the blue tap delivers hot water” and "Forgotten towns will hoist blackened apartment blocks” ("Entry Visa") and people live in "a row of thin-walled proletarian hovels” ("Spinster of this Day"); in countries "between the mouths of Dnister and of Duna” where  towns "were officially rebaptized” ("Anecdote") and history is haunted by the ancient planet-eating monster "Vârcolac", later tamed into the form of the elegant vapire by popular culture; and where every city has war memories and is "Needing Bridges", as Budapest does, where "wartime photos show those bridges down”. The new face of this world may be more refined but is not less absurd: "Suburbiana", and the house in a "town that could be anywhere from Swabia to Serbia; / The third street on the right from Jimi's Pub”, and the "godforsaken Swabian village” where "pan-European cool kids” get off the school bus with "cracking gum, flicked hair, designer goods” to eat at the one and only local McDonald's ("Heron's Nest"). The two worlds, however, are getting closer and closer to each other, and "The Translator" working between "the hearts of Europe and of Asia, / Or halfway from Sao Paulo to New York” who used to be a "tiny bore-hole through an iron curtain” has to go global as well. 
"These words are not my own” ("Philology"). David Hill is an excellent, versatile translator (he got his diploma from the Institute of Linguists, London, in 1999) with an enviable range of languages he can work in: in addition to his native English he reads and translates from German, Russian, French, Romanian and Hungarian (some of his translations can be read in earlier issues of The Hungarian Quarterly). He must have been influenced by all of these languages and poetries, and he has created a uniquely tender, sharp, funny style of his own, infused with witty word-play, self-deprecating irony and with searing punch lines. Hill has also written lyrics for songs. Musicality, together with humour, is a characteristic element of his poetry. Indeed many of the poems are songs that yearn for (and probably have been written to) music, from the Budapest blues titled "Loneliness Bridge" and the ballad "Cape York" to the bitterly funny "Law Break Girl" (I can't resist quoting: "She grabbed my legs while I was swimming in the sea / Perhaps her way of showing her affection”). He is also very good at writing shorter pieces of love poetry. There is wit in these poems and the tone is at the same time comical and tender: "Man and Boy" is a mere four lines:
"Are you a man", she asked, "or just a boy?"
And pinned him to the corner of the bed.
"Well, that depends on what you'd most enjoy."
She kissed him gently. "You're a man", she said.

Consumed contains almost seventy poems to read and enjoy. David Hill won't let us escape: we must sense the unbearable lightness of being, and what's more, we must laugh at it. When I finished the book for the third time and recalled my unfortunate moth-catching effort, I had to realize that in that moment I would have made a perfect topic for a Hill poem: a suburban wife obsessively hunting moths even while reading love poems.
- The Hungarian Quarterly

The poetry in this collection is delightfully approachable, but it is far from lightweight. David Hill's writing is filled with a type of humor that causes a reader to lower his or her guard. Once that guard is lowered, the reader gets smacked in the face with prolific commentary on humanity and the world at large. It's quite a ride. With each turn of the page came a surprise. Some poems had me laughing out loud. Others compelled me to stop and reflect on the role I play on the global stage. This is one collection of poetry that will stay on my shelf indefinitely.
- Vinnie Kinsella on GoodReads.com

Hill's style is all his own - it's an entertaining, important body of work that doesn't shy away from much.
- Shawn Sorenson on Barnes & Noble website 

Hill offers a fantastically funny view on people consumed by lust, by money, by food, and how they consume those things.
- Indigo Editing

Long an admirer, I had been prepared to be amused by David Hill’s new collection of poems. What I was not quite prepared for was how astonishingly good they are, or how often, on reading them, I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck prickling. Mr Hill is still a poetical entertainer, but now he is also well on his way to becoming a major poet — perhaps the first for the era of globalization.
- James Bowman, former American editor, The Times Literary Supplement

David Hill is as funny as Wendy Cope, as hip as Simon Armitage, and as formally adept as John Betjeman - in short, his witty, superbly-crafted verse is as satisfying as mainstream British poetry gets.  What sets him apart though, from the current poetry Britpack, is his fearless exploration of the outer limits of acceptable speech acts, his sophisticated knowledge of political economy, and his dandy's lascivious, winking eye.  If you want to know what love or sex after the Wall came down was like, he's your man.  This is a hugely entertaining, sometimes thought-provoking, and often controversial collection of poems that should attract new readers to poetry.  It will surely please all those who crave a bit of rhythm and rhyme with their rock and roll.
- Todd Swift, Oxfam GB Poet in Residence

David Hill makes the everyday surreal - and writes unashamedly and delightfully about love. Imagine a shape-shifter, a spinner of yarns, a poet from Transylvania via the U.S. and leafy England, whose poems are small gothic tales of lost dogs, lovesick girls, royal houses gone to pot, celebrities in domestic situation comedies, vampires in the belfry, menopausal women and much more. He is the Jarvis Cocker of poetry, mooning at the pomposity of others! Give this poet a medal - preferably a gaudy Eastern European one.
- Rosemary Dun, founder and host, Big Mouth Poetry

David Hill has written a number of highly astute poems - I'd mention 'Moneytime', 'Philology' and 'Storchenbotschaft' as examples - that combine a sharp line with the spot-on image, communicating and moving more or less immediately but inviting re-readings that strengthen the initial perception. His poems take in the countries that - no 'New Europe' - have always been as much a Europe as London, Paris and Amsterdam. The eye and the attitude here are those of the observer not passing through but in situ.
- Alistair Noon, poet and critic
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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