As tweeting politians know to their cost ( but without ever learning a lesson) you should be careful what you send out into cyberspace. I ended last week’s cobweb strand unwisely. I wrote: ‘ I don’t know what next week’s post will bring……but it won’t be as inspiring as this one.’ Well, I’d just spent a lot of hours over that week in the company of Gordon Hodgeon’s story and of his poems. What I hadn’t allowed for was that I’d spend five days of this week at a residential writing course run by Kim Moore and Carola Luther. I hadn’t allowed for the intensity of writing and writing and writing. I hadn’t allowed for the weather. I hadn’t allowed for the fact that I had no idea what Grange-over-Sands would be like. I’d got it into my head that walkable hills would rise up from the sea shore, and that each day I would clamber up something rough and steep, and clear my head. I thought saltmarsh was something I could learn to walk on. I was en-chanted by Robert Macfarlane’s Landmarks. I thought I could go anywhere, protected by the charms of language. I thought I would stride to Tir nan Og and back.
I know better, now. Instead, I was spellstruck by the poetry of metamorphoses, stories of transformation, and the magical symbioses of the soul and the body. And, of course, last Tuesday, a big cardboard box of fresh-minted copies of Kim Moore’s first collection arrived. The art of falling. We queued to buy our copies; we had been waiting for this for a long time. I’m not going to write a review…I guess there are plenty of these being written as I sit here, and by people better qualified than me; I think these reviews will be fulsome. If they are not, they will be wrong. What I will do is to say why I had waited, how much I’d looked forward to having a copy in my hands.
The first time I met Kim Moore was at a Saturday Writing Day in Sheffield and she read a draft that she’d assembled on the train ride that morning. It made my blood tingle, the way she read it, the words she read. It was inevitable and memorable, instantly. I could not get out of my mind the image of her, arrested by the sheep grazing the saltmarsh seen from the train as it ‘stretches its limb across the estuary’, and the poet thinking
…that if the sheep aren’t rounded up
will they stand and let the tide come in, because
that’s what sheep do, they don’t save themselves…
In the discomfort of the train, and its loud insensitivities, and the sleeping man who dribbles on her shouder, there’s this one phrase : and still I love. That’s all it took. I was hooked. Even more so when I asked if I could have a copy, and the next day it arrived in in an email. How generous, I thought, is that!
The next time I met her was when she was guest poet at The Puzzle Hall Poets in Sowerby Bridge (if you wonder where that is, then you need to watch ‘Happy Valley’); one good deed deserves another, so I left a Rugby League derby early to go and hear her. There was hardly anyone there, and a couple in a window seat talked loudly throughout her reading. It reminded me of the gigs where I’ve seen one of my singer/songwriter heroes, Mary Gauthier playing to crass audiences for next to no reward. There’s a special kind of commitment, and Kim Moore has it.
I went to hear her again at the Albert Poets in Huddersfield, where they appreciate their poetry, and where they bought her pamphlet If we could speak like wolves. But I couldn’t help doing the sums. You’d have to sell a lot of books to even come near covering your petrol or your train fare. How many poetry gigs pay for you to turn up, or even pass the hat? Who would dream of paying a poet even the minimum wage for every hour she spends, reading, writing, learning, making? I learned how generous she is, and also a sort of indominability. It happened again, about a year ago, when she drove from the Lake District to West Yorkshire and back, for a gig where none of the guests were bought a drink, and where no one seemed interested in buying a book. So, she may not be unique, but I think she’s special.
Since then, I’ve sent her poems to comment on, (which she does) and I follow her journeys through Facebook, and I religiously read The Sunday Poem. I love the generosity of her championship of other poems and poets, I am in awe of her reading, her absorption in the business of growing her craft. She is half my age, I think. She is older than that, and wiser. I have elected her my mentor. I suppose I should have asked, but she seems unphased by it.
Last year she sent me (among others) the manuscript of her collection to comment on. I’ll tell you what that was like. It was like winning the lottery. It was like the loveliest girl at a dance asking you to dance, not because she fancied you, but because she thought you could dance well enough. I read with more concentration than I’ve given anything in years. I read every poem aloud. I read In that year. I read this:
‘And in that year I gave up on all the things
I was promised and gave myself to sadness.
And then that year lay down like a path
and I walked it, I walked it, I walk it.’
I’m told I cry too easily, but this time I was unashamed. It’s like one of the great songs. Like late Johnny Cash, like Cohen, like Dylan, beautifully spare, apparently effortless, simple and crafted. I knew she was good, but now I knew her poetry was special, up there in my private anthology with MacCaig, and Harrison, poems I could have by heart and say to myself.
[Stage direction: the writer goes downstairs; he discovers that the dhal is starting to stick, and needs a stir. He wilts spinach and adds it to the pot. He rolls a cig and wanders out into the garden. He puts away spades and rakes that have been left out all last week. He decides to put another coat of paint on the bit he replastered this morning, after the shelf fell off the wall last night. He keeps finding bit of broken china, so he hoovers the kitchen. He rolls another cig, and then comes upstairs and reads what he has written. He thinks it is a star-struck fan-letter. He decides to leave it as it is and then to sort of justify it]
Why do I like ‘ The art of falling ‘ as much as I do? Let me take this extract from ‘How the stones fell.’
We were born from stones and we were destined to live
like stones, warming ourselves in the sun,
cracking when the temperature fell, we said there there was
something of the sea in us, but in this, like many other things
we lied, it was never water in our hearts, we carried stones
in our pockets, we carried them in our hands.
What holds me in Kim Moore’s poetry is her long sentences, where the phrases are exact and perfectly balanced, where the rhythm never puts a foot wrong. You have to read them, enact them, like a musical score. You have to breathe through them, sustain each image as it builds and builds the whole idea of the poem. The lexis is never ornate or decorative, but the overall feel is of textured richness. I tell myself that these are poems written by gifted trumpet player, someone who knows breathing and pace, that it’s in her bones. I think it when I’ve seen her read. She stands as balanced and rooted as a trumpet player needs to be.
If that were all it was it would be interesting, but as I learned in her workshops this week, what matters in her poetry is the mysterious dependence of soul and body. Her poetry has a physicality that is often fierce, and often tender, and aware of the tension between the two, that we have to acknowledge to become fully alive. That’s what I take from the opening poem of the collection
And the soul
And the soul, if she is to know herself
must look into the soul and find
what kind of beast is hiding
…………………… if it be a wolf
throw back your head
and let it howl.
So, as I read over and over this collection of psalms and incantations, its enchantments and curses, its scaffolders, and unintentional swearers and casual racists, its abusive men and defiant survivors, its wolves and Weatherspoons, its mutabilities and transformation, I think I can be happy to sit for a minute in Hartley Street Spiritualist Church, and not only sing ‘ I believe in angels’ without any irony at all, but just for a while, actually believe in angels.
Last Tuesday I was watching Kim signing copies of her collection. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone quite so happy.
The art of falling is published by Seren. Go and buy it. Better judges than me will tell you why, but don’t wait for the reviews. Go and buy it. Go on. I’ll let you out early. Oh, nearly forgot. Had a little stock-take, and noticed that the great fogginzo’s cobweb started to be spun in April 2014. I have just hit 52 posts (not counting reblogged posts) so I’m having two weeks off. I hope you’ll still be around when I come back. Thanks for following.