Georgia Hilton has written poetry since childhood, and is particularly drawn to the inner lives of other characters, attempting a sort of poetic ventriloquism. Georgia recently gained an MA in Creative and Critical Writing from the University of Winchester where she lives with her husband and three children.
She was joint winner of the Brian Dempsey Memorial Competition in 2018 with her poem "Dark Haired Hilda replies to Patrick Kavanagh"
‘Hilton writes with lyrical restraint, and therein lies the pathos. Places offer up their histories and the treatment of the young farmhand is a wound which moves across the generations.’
Emma Lee reviews “Swing” Georgia Hilton in The Journal" (#62, January 2021)
The title refers to the Swing Riots in the 1830s when the introduction of threshing machines and cuts in Poor Relief impoverished farm labours. Rioters were subjected to harsh punishments – some were hung, others were deported to Australia. These poems focus on Henry Cook, a farmhand. His sweetheart was Mabel, a housemaid, and she’s given voice too. In “Mabel, 1831”,
“When did it learn
to hate? Or perhaps
it never learned to love the mother
who gave it away
To the wet-nurse,
To the preparatory school, To the cane.”
Given the status of women, it’s unfair of Mabel to blame her employer’s mother, because that would have been her husband’s decision. She had no more rights than a cow. But Mabel is right to suggest separation at an early age instils a lack of compassion.
There is a second strand to “Swing”. In 1939 playwright J R (Joe) Ackerley travelled from London to Micheldever in search of some trace of Henry Cook. In “Joe 1939”,
“He wished for snow
instead of this damned mud that caked his shoes and rimed the bottom of his greatcoat”
The poem ends with the myth that Acklerley’s wished-for snow, “it had never yet settled/ on the ploughboy’s grave.”
“The Gravedigger’s Lad” muses on those who weren’t executed but had their sentences commuted to a passage to Australia,
“You hear stories, don’t you, of strange diseases.
Bodies packed together, manacled. But I swear
I could bear it easier
than his look of disappointment.”
The disappointment is from his father, the gravedigger. The implication is that the son is regarded as a coward for not joining the riots.
In the final section of poems, Georgia Hilton turns her eye onto her motives for researching and writing about the riots,
“I do not want you
to Rest in Peace
I want to exhume your bones, parade them through the town for all to see, shouting
‘This is Henry!
He was nineteen.’”
Nineteen is an awkward age: still a teenager but also an adult. It’s also the average age of young men killed in the Vietnam War. An age full of symbolism.
In “Swing” Georgia Hilton has created a multi-voiced poetic narrative. Each voice is distinctive and relevant. Distant, historical voices are used to show the inhumanity of the time and links the past to the present.
I went up the lane quite cheerful
to the buzzing of a hundred flies,
noticing a dark stagnant puddle
fed by a brownish trickle, and then
peering over the edge of a skip,
saw it was full of parts of cows.A hoof here, a tail there, in another
place an eyebone, which, my cousin
swears, are quite delicious. And then
a man dressed in yellow rushers,
a blue hairnet and a white coat
covered in plate-sized bloodstains
emerged from a low building.
I ran all the way back to the green
where two or three piebalds
were grazing, the glue sniffers
gathered like a congregation,
and from the shrine on the hill
the Blessed Virgin, bathed
in a greenish light, hovered
over it all like an apparition.
© Georgia Hilton