It’s not very often I feel compelled to buy a book at a reading (mostly because I’m trying to cut down on the amount of books I own, not because the poets are shite) but I knew I had to own this one as soon as Moore finished reading her first poem.
It’s a collection in three parts: the first observes the Northern people and landscapes that were the backdrop to her youth, the second is a devastatingly honest exploration of domestic violence and the third draws breath from the musical influences in her life.
The opening poem ‘ And the Soul’ is a strange one, more abstract in its ideology than the observational ones that follow it – although the motif of a wolf carries through. By placing this as the very first poem and following it with poems that observe Northerners (‘My People’) in a way that lacks judgement or saccharine sentimentality, Moore is setting out her stall. This is a collection from a proud Northern woman, who plays with language and structure while yet delivering such beauty as “the sky in their voices”.
This is most true in ‘Psalm for the Scaffolders’, an incredibly moving poem, woven with observations that bring these men to life. It’s made particularly more effective in the final line when she reveals it’s for her scaffolder father.
Some of my favourite poems in this section are the tableaux of everyday life, such as ‘Tuesday at Wetherspoons’ and ‘Barrow to Sheffield’. I’ve never spent any time in the North of England, but I can recognise the world she paints, seemingly without emotion but there are a few tender notes: “bellies like cakes just baked” and “cheekbones sharp as sadness.”
All of which is swept briskly aside by the brutal second section. The last few poems in the first start to prepare us, but I was annihilated by the powerful opening stanza of ‘In That Year’
“And in that year my body was a pillar of smoke
and even his hands could not hold me.”
This loss of control at the hands of a man and the sense of becoming something else, something ‘other’ of losing the sense of self as a tangible, solid being is explored to devastating effect in the poems in this section. The observations are uncomfortably close at points and the narrative voice moves from 1st to 2nd to 3rd, flitting around in a manner appropriate to a collection of poems about the struggle to maintain identity in such circumstances.
These poems are heavy with the malevolence of the partner, his brutality appearing in bursts such as in ‘He was the Forgotten Thing’
“he had thoughts that took over / the day like weather.” It is impossible to escape him and Moore builds a terrifying sense of claustrophobia in this section, making it a difficult, heart wrenching read.
The last section picks up the tone, becoming more playful, more higglepiggledy. There are prose poems, poems that explore mythology and historical figures (the inclusion of ‘A Room of One’s Own’ and ‘Suffragette’ gives a nod to Moore’s political leanings – as does the wonderful ‘Dear Mr Gove’). But for me, the real joy lay in the musical poems for Lennon and Chet Baker.
This collection is a wonderful debut. It shows us what Moore is about as a poet, and explores her strongest influences while still leaving space for exploration. The choice of ‘New’s Year Eve’ and the last line “like a paper boat on slow moving water” seems to open up for the next collection. I for one, will definitely be buying it.