This is one of those writers that I have been hearing about for a while now without ever doing anything about reading her stuff or seeing her read. I finally saw her read earlier this month in Bradford and immediately bought the book – I understand we may not be far off a second collection which will be a treat, I’m sure.
The backcover blurb has words like “lively”, “compelling” and “brave” among others to attempt to describe what’s inside here; I’d like to add “honest”. The poems have that staring you square in the eye honesty that is rare and refreshing. It lays a story, scene or observation out with clarity and challenges you to doubt her. It is the sort of honesty that is beyond bravery, because if you are truth-telling what is there to be afraid of.
The book is in three parts: some initial poems, sometimes loosely connected, the final section which is a series of sketches or pen portraits wrap around the astonishing middle section entitled ‘How I Abandoned My Body to His Keeping’ that tells of an abusive relationship, or simply, ‘domestic violence’ in Moore’s own words at a recent reading.
The opening section of the book has poems about the people and life she lived in her early years, an ordinary life walking through the world that most of us live in with titles like ‘Tuesday at Wetherspoons’ where ‘the men have bellies like cakes just baked’ or ‘In Praise of Arguing’, four stanzas of physical damage done to a house and its trappings before concluding, ‘it was a glorious glorious year’. There are a couple of poems derived from her work teaching music (brass instruments) but the poems that really set this section alight are those where she invests ordinariness with the extraordinary uplift that correctly chosen words can bring and makes those subjects sing, gifts them flight. ‘My People’, the second poem in the book and a prose poem – such confidence – tells you all you need to know about where she comes from, good, bad or indifferent, makes no apology for it and doesn’t care what you think.
‘If they were from Yorkshire, which they’re not, but if they were, they would have been the ones on the pickets shouting scab and throwing bricks at policemen.’
Or there is the elegiac and beautiful ‘A Psalm for the Scaffolders’ – her dad was a scoffolder. It is a love poem to her dad and to the workers like him who worked hard and sweated for a living, the people who don’t ever feature when histories are written about ‘the things that made this country great’ (just allow the hackneyed phrase, this isn’t the place for discussions about false histories), but who in their millions were indespensible. A psalm then, for those, ‘who balanced like tightrope walkers’, who, ‘learnt to put up scaffolding standing in just one board’, who, ‘didn’t like rules’ and for him who,’fell thirty feet and survived’.
The poem ‘After Work’ has one of my favourite lines, ‘Here is the loneliness of November’.
’The Art of Falling’, is a brilliant poem based on words that sound like, look like, could be derived from the word ‘fall’, as well as all the different ways we use those words. It tells you to pay attention to language; what else should readers and writers be doing?
The central section is the beating heart of the collection and it resounds. I haven’t experienced the type of relationship described and I am glad of that, so it makes this reader little more than a witness to Moore’s description, but thankfully without any shred of voyeurism or ‘tourism’. This is Moore’s truth told clearly, unflinchingly with words chosen with such acuity as to make it beautiful in places – not the violence but the telling of that violence.
’In that year…not even my father knew me.’ (In that year)
’l almost turned but then I followed/ I followed to the darkness of our home’ (Followed)
One of the shorter poems in this section ‘Your Name’, just stuns me. 10 lines of words thrown like punches, like bullets. I’m not going to quote it. Buy the book.
Another word that comes to mind now, now that I’m reflecting on the book, is admiration.
The stand alone poems of the final section include thoughts on Chet Baker, Shelley, a Suffragette and a middle couple caught having al fresco sex while Moore was apparently out for a hike in the Lakes. The collection is a gem, it’s only fault being that it took me three years to get round to reading it.