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Hilary Menos

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the poet

Hilary Menos won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2010 with Berg (Seren, 2009) and her pamphlet Human Tissue (Smith|Doorstop) was a winner in The Poetry Business International Book & Pamphlet Competition 2019-20. Her second collection is Red Devon (Seren, 2013) and her most recent pamphlet is Fear of Forks (HappenStance, 2022). She read PPE at Oxford, took an MA in poetry at MMU, and has worked as a student organiser, journalist, food reviewer, organic farmer, dramaturge, and builder’s mate. She is married with four sons and lives in France. She is editor of The Friday Poem.

the poems

Ivory Viking Queen

00:00 / 01:11
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What has she seen, what has she seen,

this sombre little Viking queen,

hunched and brooding on her ivory throne,

one hand to her cheek, one clutching a drinking horn.


Is she mourning the battle-dead, the lost pawns,

the cost of revenge, the endless cycle of harm?

Beside her, the king is implacable, bearded.

Her berserker is biting his shield.


There is mystery, too, in her making —

was she carved in the workshops of Trondheim or Jelling,

or by Margret the Adroit, the best in Iceland

with tusk and tooth and bone? From the cast resin face


of this British Museum fridge magnet

her maker winks at me. My money’s on Margret.

Queen Esther’s
Make-Over

00:00 / 01:14
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The verb form used is passive:

they were gathered, they were prepared, they were made ready,

and after a twelve-month beauty treatment —

six months with oil of myrrh, six months with sweet perfumes

(of all the Biblical oils, myrrh is top of the list) —

each one was taken in to the bachelor king

and would not be taken in again, unless he delighted in her

and summoned her again by name.

The words for ‘beauty treatment’ translate as ‘scour, polish’ 

(read more here about Skin Care in the Bible,

Psalms, 104:15. Oil makes a person’s face shine. 

Vigorous scrubbing with ash imparts a natural glow.)

But no mention of what happened to the other queen,

the one who refused, who spoke back, using the active voice.

Ruby Woo

00:00 / 01:43
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All I ever needed to know about lipstick

I learned from Emily Fox. Influencer, queen

of the haul and swatch, she has fifty shades of MAC


and she’s applying them, now, on her YouTube channel,

working her way through the the nudes, the pinks, the corals

like a pedagogue, like a pro, as if she’d been 


gifted a Girl’s World Styling Head at birth.

She slicks on Daddy’s Girl, then Sin, then Ruby Woo

and I can’t stop watching, transfixed by her technique 


(two notches on her top lip, then four elegant strokes)  

and by the way she turns to camera when she’s done

and smiles, and pauses. Smiles wider. Main beam!  


Emily taught me the power of a wet, red mouth.

Now crowds of men in pubs part like the Red Sea

and a dozen barmen fall over each other to serve me.


O Emily, what goes on when the camera goes off?

Do your cheek muscles ache? Does your fridge magnet say:

‘Lipstick is the red badge of courage’ — Man Ray?


I’m more of a John Keats fan. Beauty is truth,

truth, beauty. That’s all you know on earth,

all you need to know. Don’t ask me what I know.


I’m coming to a bar near you, coming for you.

Me and Daddy’s Girl and Sin and Ruby Woo.

Publishing credits

All poems: exclusive first publication by iamb

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