Review: Recipe for Being a Woman


Seren reviews former Falmouth student Hermione Cameron's debut collection.

Hermione Cameron’s debut poetry collection, Recipe for Being a Woman, comes at a time of resurgent popularity for poetry. Sales are soaring, up 13% on last year, according to Nielson. This is thanks largely to a new wave of popular female poets, such as Rupi Kaur and Amanda Lovelace, that have a large online following and write personal accounts of universal issues. Cameron’s collection is written in the same vein, with her poetry recounting stories built from life that focus on painfully relatable subjects to do with love, mental health, and what it means to be a woman in the modern world.

Like many of the poems in the collection, it illustrates the commonness of mental illness, and how debilitating it can be.

The collection kicks off with the titular poem, a biting critique on societal expectations of women and femininity, told in the form of a recipe. As a reader you can feel the sarcastic bitterness in lines such as ‘women need not be witty nor interesting, neither do they need to make jokes’, and ‘it is important to roll the dough out as smoothly as possible in order to ensure that the curves rise in all the correct places’. It’s a thoroughly feminist poem that sets the tone for the underlying theme of womanhood in the rest of the collection.

That said, one of the most beautiful poems in the collection isn’t focused on issues of femininity, but rather on that of grief. Not Always Grey, shortlisted for the 2017 Bridport Prize, captures the constantly enveloping nature of grief in everyday life. It’s a poem made up of metaphors that paint vivid pictures for the reader, such as when she describes that ‘Grief is not always grey/ more of a shade of blue & red & purple/ like a bruise on sunburned skin/ It overwhelms with colour’.

Accompanied by an illustration by Louise Armour-Chelu, whose rough sketch-work sits alongside most of the poems in the collection, the reader gets a sense of the everyday harshness of grief. Like many of the poems in the collection, from Wired to The Other Side, Not Always Grey illustrates the commonness of mental illness, and how debilitating it can be despite being able to ‘find it in every place’.

Cameron’s collection is as rooted deep in its aesthetic as it is in the poems itself. Her publisher Ampersand says on its website that ‘our aesthetic is central to our business model’, and the visual is certainly a key element of this book. From the unusual forms of poems like ID, to Armour-Chelu’s impactful illustrations, Recipe for Being a Woman is a collection that works as an artistic whole beyond just the words on the page, and is a rewarding read regardless of whether you are a poetry lover or hater.

by Seren Livie