Welcome to the 100th post of the great fogginzo’s cobweb !!!!
And I have to say, I don’t know which I am more of..surprised or happy? No problem. Surprised and happy in equal measure, and delighted that you could join me and my extra-special guest, and Polished Gem number 15: Kim Moore.
Actually, if you’ve not been with me since the beginning, it’s probably worth my explaining the title I chose for this weekly ramble through the lusher meadows of Poesie. It was like this:
“There’s a story behind the grandiosity of ‘the great fogginzo’ which it would be well to have out of the way. This is it. As the English and Drama adviser for Calderdale, I got to visit all sorts of schools, some in the middle of old mill towns, some on moor edges, one tucked into the valley side where the trains that emerged from a tunnel, to run over a viaduct, came right past the staff-room window, feeling close enough to touch. There are small Victorian buildings in villages hidden away in side valleys, in deans and cloughs. Villages like Luddenden, say; villages that are like Haworth but interesting. Anyway, one winter (snow never closes these village schools) I was supposed to do some kind of visit with a clip board and write a report about this school in a steep sided twisty valley. What happened was this. The Head, a 5 by 5 force of nature, greeted me. Don’t take your coat off, she says. We’ve not time for that. Come on. And she sweeps me off down a corridor and, with a flourish, flings open a classroom door.
Understand, this is a school of high ceilings and traditional virtues. These are the Top Juniors. (they can’t be doing with this Year 6 stuff). There are 34 children in proper desks with lids and holes for ink wells. Now then, says the Head. You didn’t believe me when I said he was coming, did you? She lets the silence hang a beat. The children of traditional virtues look at me and back at her. You didn’t believe me….ye of little faith. Well. She pauses just long enough. Here he is.
She turns to me. Fogginzo, she says. Fogginzo. They won’t believe me, but they’ll have to believe you. Go on. Tell them how you and I toured the circuses of Europe before the Second World War.
She knows that I know that she knows that I cannot back down and have any credibility. I am supposed to know about drama. She does. This is a small LEA, and all the Primary heads know each other. I have to tell the Top Juniors how me and Mrs. L. toured the circuses of Europe before World War Two.
So I do. I tell them, in my halting, heavily accented English (for which I apologise…I am Hungarian, you understand) how their stocky little Headteacher danced on the high wire, like a jewelled dragonfly in the haze of an amber spotlight, and how she broke men’s hearts with her fragile beauty. The children look at her for confirmation. She nods. Yes it’s true, all of it.
I don’t do my clipboard inspection. It has been one of the best mornings of my life.”
And so it started. I had no idea about a direction or even of a purpose. I suppose I had a vague idea that I’d like to repay the debt I was beginning to feel to the community of poets as I started to write more and to send things out. I especially wanted to publish work by people whose work I liked..mainly through poetry readings and open mic.s….who had not yet been published. Actually, as it turned out, several of them had, which tells you a good deal about how little I knew (still don’t) about the world of poetry, and all its magazines and small presses. I began by calling them ‘undiscovered gems’ (thank you Thomas Grey), but then had to create a new category of ‘(un)discovered gems’. Finally, I got up the courage to ask well-known poets to let me write about why I liked their work so much; hence the third category of ‘polished gems’. Today is unique, because for one post only we are having a Christmas Star. The reasons for this will become clear once I get into my stride and I can stop thinking about what comes next, and just write.
Anyway, I realised that I couldn’t just reproduce formats that other bloggers and cobweb weavers had made their own. I wrote about the four who mattered most to me a couple of weeks ago in a post called ‘Running on empty’. I’ll try not to say the same thing all over again. What I missed in that post was the way that the pressure to develop a post meant that I was reading more and more, and that some posts were more like mini-essays. I was wanting to share what I’d just read….say, about landscape writing, or autobiography, or drafting, or competitions, or keeping notebooks, or workshops, or…and I was wanting to share it to find if I’d understood what I’d read. Which seems to me the ultimate reason for writing anything, apart from shopping lists. The upshot is that I find my Kindle stuffed with books that I buy around 1.00am. Sometimes I forget that I’ve done it. I’m reading someones stuff on a blog or on Facebook, and thinkk: ‘Mmm. Sounds interesting. If X likes it, I’ll have a bit of that.’ And the next day, or a few days later, I find I’ve got a copy of ‘Swithering’ or ‘Bright travellers’ or Don Paterson’s rumbustious take on Shakespeare’s sonnets.
And so it is that this week’s post will be lit mainly by the bright and wonderful light shed by Clive James and his Poetry Notebook 2006-2014. It makes me wonder what I’d have made of my degree course all those years ago if I’d been taught by irreverent and learned iconoclasts like James and Paterson, blown away by the exuberant breeze of their mixture of nonchalant scholarship, and their easy take on familiar, demotic, contemporay, and, above all, individual, personal language. I might have learned earlier, rather than later, that poetry was actually about the business of living. Whereas the academics who tolerated me in various tutorial rooms at Durham University in the 60s were more like Dickens’ Miss Blimber who ‘was dry and sandy from working in the graves of deceased languages. None of your living languages [for them]..they had to be good and dead and then [they] dug them up again, like a ghoul’.
What’s excited me, reading Clive James is to discover that I’ve found him at just ther right time..that is, a time when I can understand him. If I’d read him 4 years ago, I don’t think anything much would have happened. I think you’ll understand what I mean. The core notion that gripped me was that of ‘Poetry v. Poems’ and among the welter of stuff, the importance of the memorable, the unforgettable. Because I’m still at the stage of being excited and uncritical, I suspect the way to explain myself is to share a collage of quotations and simply assume you’ll share my enthusiasm: here we go:
James writes about the ubiquity of bad poetry: ‘At a time when almost everyone writes poetry, but scarcely anyone can write a poem…. there are…..Slim volumes by the thousand….full of poetry…but few..with even a single real poem in them’
A real poem? A real poem is ‘Well separated’ . You hear ‘the force of real poetry at first glance’ (I love that!). Because ‘Even if you don’t set out to memorize a real poem, it somehow seems to be memorizing itself for you’. I think I probably punched the air when he wrote about ‘poets who want to keep technique out of it, because they don’t have any’ and set this side by side with ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its substance.’ What an important idea that is ..just that one word ‘substance.’ How good it is to be reminded that a poem has to be about something real and concrete, because ‘everything depended, and still depends, on the quality of the moment…whatever kind of poem it is, it’s the moment that gets you in.’ Of course, you have to have the ability to be alive to the moment that insists you write it, and ‘Confidence is the attribute that can’t be taught’. Like a class rugby player’s sidestep. Like the way Picasso or Hockney put down a clean simple line that’s the only line that will do.
Well, that wouldn’t get me a high grade in a university essay. But it says what I want it to say. It explains to me why some poems simply nail ‘it’ for me. Poems that are memorable for themselves, that hold together, and surprise, and make themselves your friends for life. Like the poems that Gordon Hodgeon let me share with you. Like Jo Bell’s ‘The archaeologist of rivers’ and ‘Eve naming the birds’. Like Fiona Benson’s Bright travellers. Robin Robertson’s ‘At Roane Head’. All of Christy Ducker’s alphabet poems for Grace Darling in her collection Skipper. And a good many others. But above all, and especially in these last three years, poem after poem by my inspiration, involuntary mentor, and special centenary guest, Kim Moore. (featured here, appropriately enough, on a bandstand with a silver band. It should be a brass band, but you can’t have everything.)
This will come as no surprise to my handful of regular readers, since scarcely a post goes by without a passing reference to Kim, but if you don’t know her, here she is to introduce herself.
‘I’m currently working two days a week as a peripatetic brass teacher. During my two teaching days I work in three different schools and conduct four different junior brass bands. The rest of the week, I’m free to float around the place in a poet-like fashion, giving readings, running workshops, planning residential courses, writing reviews or articles, writing poems, reading poems, blogging about poetry, traveling to readings or traveling back from readings. I work as a freelance tutor for The Wordsworth Trust and an online tutor for The Poetry School.
In 2012 my first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves won the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition, judged by Carol Ann Duffy. The pamphlet was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Award, named in the Independent as a Book of the Year and was the runner up in the Lakeland Book of the Year. This year my first collection The Art of Falling was published by Seren and a poem from the book ‘In That Year’ was shortlisted for the Forward Prize for Best Poem.
I’ve been lucky enough to perform at readings and festivals in Holland, Ireland, Croatia and at various locations throughout the UK. This year my poetry has also been translated into Dutch and Croatian. I’m the Reviews Editor for a new online magazine called The Compass, alongside poetry editors Lindsey Holland and Andrew Forster.
Next year, I’m running three residential courses with a brilliant team of co-tutors. I’ll be Poet in Residence at a festival but I’m not allowed to say where yet! I’m hoping to keep carving out time for my writing and to continue working on a sequence that I’m having great fun writing at the minute which is called All the Men I Never Married. In my spare time, I enjoy playing trumpet in a ten-piece soul band called The Soul Survivors and I also love running.’
I love that phrase. In my spare time. If you follow Kim’s poetry blog ( https://kimmoorepoet.wordpress.com/ ) you’ll know that ‘spare time’ is probably about as common in her life as a transit of Venus. One of the inspiring things about her is that she’s one of the most hard-working and committed people I’ve ever met. Poetry matters, with Kim. If she sometimes makes it looks easy, you would do well to remember the golfer who said that not only was he lucky, but the harder he worked, the luckier he got. And also Fred Astaire’s remark that if it looks difficult, you’re not trying hard enough. She’s sent me three poems for the post. I’ll try to say why they are special to me, and also try to keep in your mind what the quotations from Clive James have to do with it.
The first poem of Kim’s I ever heard was still in a handwritten draft in a workshop when she read it. What it had was James’ notion of ‘the moment’ and also the sense that it insisted on memorizing itself for me. I’ve quoted from it before, but here’s the whole poem. Just listen to the way it moves out of the banal here-and-now, where there’s chewing gum stuck to the table, and the guard bashes you with his ticket box, out of it into the wide spacious light of the estuary, and its unchangeable history, and into the curious certainty of abstractions: choices, directions, decisions (like the end of The Whitsun Weddings). And then back to the here and now, which might just be a dream.
Barrow To Sheffield
Even though the train is usually full of people
I don’t like, who play music obnoxiously loud
or talk into their phones and tell the whole carriage
and their mother how they’re afraid of dying
even though they’re only twenty-five,
even though the fluorescent lights
and the dark outside make my face look like
a dinner plate, even though it’s always cold
around my ankles and there’s chewing gum
stuck to the table and the guard is rude
and bashes me with his ticket box,
even though the toilet smells like nothing
will ever be clean again, even though
the voice that announces the stations
says Bancaster instead of Lancaster,
still I love the train, its sheer unstoppability,
its relentless pressing on, and the way the track
stretches its limb across the estuary
as the sheep eat greedily at the salty grass,
and 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,
and knowing people have drowned out there
like the father who rang the coast guard,
who put his son on his shoulders as the water rose
past his knees and waist and chest, the coast guard
who tried to find him, but the fog came down,
and though he could hear the road, he didn’t know
which way to turn, but in a train, there are no choices,
just one direction, one decision you must stick to.
This morning the sun came up in Bolton and all
the sky was red and a man in a suit fell asleep
and dribbled on my shoulder till the trolley
came and rattled in my ear and he woke up
and shouted I’ve got to find the sword.
Unstoppable as the train, a poem of only two sentences, one of them six stanzas, thirty lines long. It’s a delight to read aloud. It insists on being read aloud, just do it, and you find, like a piece of music, it tells you exactly where to breathe, check, pick up pace. It never wrong-foots you. It just lines you up to arrive exactly on the moment when ‘This morning the sun came up in Bolton and all / the sky was red’, exactly as it should be and inevitably as it must. What you have is a technically stunning poem that hides is technique, where every moment is true, and necessary. And I love the quality that I can’t find a name for that doesn’t sound condescending…but it’s a kind of innocence or naivete, where thing are seen in a clear childlike way. Actually I think in retrospect I CAN find a word for it. The word is ‘wonder’. There’s scarcely a word in the poem that announces itself as ‘poetry’ and yet the syntax could only be that of a poem. It fits James’ dictum that ‘declaring itself to be a poem is one of the the main things a poem does.’ I love the way the poem expands out beyond the dark window of the train to encompass the whole estuary, the ways of sheep, the heartbreak and history of the drowning saltflats. And then comes back to a different earth where we waken out of a dream of Tolkien. Wow!
The next poem I asked for is to remind myself how Kim shared her discovery of Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and the way she found how myth might help her to come to terms with dark and destructive memories. It’s why I have at least four retellings of Ovid on my Kindle..including Ted Hughes’ adaptation. It’s why my own poetry took a turn that let me write about some of the most difficult things in my life. I owe Kim Moore a lot that she was unconscious of giving me.
How the Stones Fell
We learnt that we were born from stones, that the last
man and woman to survive the flood climbed from their raft
onto the shoulders of a mountain and looked across the water
which had swallowed everything.
For days there had been a sea but no shore, now as the water
curled back its lip and let go of the tops of trees
the man and woman followed, walking down the slope,
their feet touching the edges of the water,
their arms full of the bones of the earth, their hair long
and flowing to their waists. They cast stones behind them
and from the hand of the man a stone fell and grew into
another man and from the hand of the woman
a stone fell and grew into another woman and so we grew,
our eyes like flints and our mouths tasting of the earth.
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 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.
This one I like for, amongst many things, never even coming near having ‘the spectacular expression that outruns its subject’. Because the language of Kim Moore’s poetry is so often as clear as glass that you see right through to the substance. And then you listen to the music of it all, the internal rhymes and half-rhymes that are like the language of everyday and also of a solemn incantation. It’s a heartbreaker, too, this poem, carrying a weight of grief for the stone in the human heart, that is suddenly felt in the switch from ‘them’ to ‘us’. They cast stones behind them’ and ‘so we grew, / our eyes like flints and our mouths tasting of the earth’. It’s a poem that made me change the way I wrote and the rhythm that I wrote in. Not consciously, or deliberately. I just fell in with its rhythm, and was lost.
Finally, a poem that comes from a sequence in which it feel as though Kim wrote herself free of a dark period in her life. It’s a sequence without a shred of self-pity, but an overwhelming pity for the self she makes herself confront and acknowledge. Have you read Ursula le Guin’s A wizard of earthsea? The hero, Ged, pursues a dark Shadow to the ends of the earth; he thinks he must destroy it. Instead, he learns he must name it with its true name, and its true name is his own name. Shakespeare did it more succinctly in The Tempest: ‘This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine’, says Prospero of Caliban. Until he does, he can never be whole. It’s not the best way of explaining the power of this sequence for me, but it’s the best I can do. Everything I like in Kim Moore’s poetry is in this poem, which, unusually, is crammed with images, like an Old Testament psalm, and which, for me, meets all Clive James’ criteria of ‘well-separatedness’, memorability, craft and substance.
In That Year
And in that year my body was a pillar of smoke
and even his hands could not hold me.
And in that year my mind was an empty table
and he laid his thoughts down like dishes of plenty.
And in that year my heart was the old monument,
the folly, and no use could be found for it.
And in that year my tongue spoke the language
of insects and not even my father knew me.
And in that year I waited for the horses
but they only shifted their feet in the darkness.
And in that year I imagined a vain thing;
I believed that the world would come for me.
And in that year I gave up on all the things
I was promised and left myself to sadness.
And then that year lay down like a path
and I walked it, I walked it, I walk it.
I don’t want to say any more about it. Because it doesn’t need it. Except that it’s been an enormous pleasure to celebrate the 100th cobweb strand with a Christmas Star. Kim Moore…thank you.
And if you haven’t bought it yet, then do so. You have Christmas booktokens and Amazon Vouchers. Why are you waiting. Even better, use the link to Kim Moore’s poetry blog. It has a PayPal button. She’ll be more than happy if you use it.