Milestones and landmarks (3)…with Kim Moore

drowned village 2

[Just to bring you up to date:

Today’s post will be the 275th since the cobweb was started in April 2014. I realised a short time ago, on the the basis that each post averages out at about 2000 words, sometime recently we passed the half million word mark. I reckon that’s worth celebrating, so I asked three poets to be guests again. I could have asked lots of people and namechecked many more…Hilary Elfick, Andy Blackford, and The Poetry Business in particular.

However, I wanted to say thank you for three landmark moments…

first solo guest poetry reading,

first invitation to be a guest blogger,


first time as guest poet on a poetry blog. Which, for me, was April 2013

So. Here we go.]

Like I say, there are so many people in the poetry world to whom I owe so much. Almost all of them have been guests on the cobweb, and some of them are extra special. However, I thought I’d stick to ‘milestones‘, and the final one of three is Kim Moore. She’s been a guest more times than anyone else, and she’s probably name checked more than anyone else (though it may be a very close-run thing with the Poetry Business).

I’ve been a fan of her poetry blog, The Sunday Poem for a long time, so when Kim invited me to send her a poem for her poetry blog it was a very big deal. I’d gone to a Puzzle Hall Poets Live night, in the days when Gaia Holmes was running it. Kim was the guest poet;I did one poem on the open mic and Kim took a punt on it.  Now, four years ago I’d had very few poems published, and I’d certainly produced no books or pamphlets. It’s moments like this that show just how important to your confidence it can be to have your writing validated by someone sharing it.

But that’s not all. Since then, Kim has been inspirational in all sorts of ways, not least via her residential courses. I’ve had two prize-winning poems come out of those. She’s taught me how to be rigorous with my own stuff ,how to read,  how to breathe through poems with long sentences (we both like those). She helped me to write honestly about the death of my son, and to find a language to frame it in. She gave me (and others) the example of her own courage in confronting personal trauma in her poetry, and also (for me) the way in which the myths of transformation can be a holding frame for our own stories. She has never stopped encouraging me to believe I can do it. Whatever ‘it’ is.

I’ve said thank you before. If you have the time, you can follow the link to something I wrote the year her first collection The Art of Falling came out

When I read that collection I was convinced it would make a big splash. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t win every prize going. I felt personally affronted when it seemed to very quietly slip out of sight. But two years on, it’s suddenly got the recognition it deserves. Kim writes about this in a moment. So. On with the post.

I asked her for a poem from an earlier blog, and this is the one I chose. Whenever I read it, I think of the drowned villages that appear in times of drought. I like everything about it, its fully imagined landscape, that strange (but right) image of the man and woman whose hair flowed to their waists…and the bleakness of its vision, its pity for the human condition makes me weep.


drowned village 1

How The Stones Fell

(after Ovid)


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.


It’s a poem that matters, isn’t it? It’s a real poem. A real poem?  I stick with Clive James’ definition. A real poem is  ‘Well separated’ . You hear ‘the force of real poetry at first glance’ . It’s marked by its clarity, its avoidance of ‘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.’ 

That 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’.  But above all, and especially in these last three years, poem after poem by my inspiration, involuntary mentor, and special landmark/milestone guest, Kim Moore. And here she is to bring us up to date:

“The last time I appeared in the Cobweb was Christmas 2015 as a ‘Christmas Star’.  I can’t believe it was a full two years ago!  Back then, in 2015, I was still working as a peripatetic brass teacher for two days a week, which involved working in three schools and conducting three junior brass bands every week.   The rest of my gainful employment was spent as a freelance writer, running poetry workshops and reading at festivals. 

The biggest change since then is I’m no longer a brass teacher.  In September 2016  I was lucky enough to be awarded a Vice-Chancellor’s Scholarship to study for a PhD, which meant I could take a step away from music teaching and become a full-time student.  My PhD is a creative-critical PhD, which means that part of my thesis will be my second full-length collection. 

Brass teaching is the only job I’ve known – although as a student I had part-time jobs, brass teaching was the first job I had which became part of my identity.  It feels strange to not be a brass teacher anymore.  At the same time, I know it was the right time for me to move on.  It’s easy now to feel nostalgic about teaching, and if I go and see the junior band that I set up and built over those 13 years, I’m filled with longing to go back into my old life.  I almost enjoy that feeling of longing though – because it means I don’t remember the annoying aspects of the job. 

My PhD project is to write poetry which explores and represents experiences of sexism and I’m particularly interested in whether poetry can play a part in changing the way we talk about sexism, or even who talks about it.  A member of the audience at a reading came up to me a couple of weeks ago and said they  hadn’t even thought about the fact that they hadn’t read any women writers during their degree, until they’d heard me read poetry about sexism.  For me, this proves that poetry can be part of a conversation that will hopefully change the way we think and discuss sexism.  I know that writing poetry about my own experiences of sexism has changed the way I think about those experiences  – so poetry becomes a way of investigating, a way of knowing about not-knowing. 

The PhD has given me the time and space to think about the type of poet I want to be, and the type of poetry I want to write, and what I think poetry is for.  I don’t know all the answers to those questions yet, but I feel like I’m getting closer.  In 2015, I mentioned a sequence I was working on – ‘All The Men I Never Married’.  Who knew that this would grow into a fully-fledged PhD? Not me!

I’m still continuing with my freelance work as a writer around the PhD.  Luckily for me, I have a mortal fear of being bored, and I like working till late at night – usually till midnight, so I manage to fit in everything I want to do.  I am part of Versopolis, a European-funded poetry project which helps promote the work of ‘young’ poets in Europe – this year I got to read at the amazing Struga Poetry Festival in Macedonia as part of this project.  I run Dove Cottage Young Poets**, a fortnightly writing group for teenagers, which is one of my favourite things I get to do as a writer.  My friend Pauline Yarwood and I set up Kendal Poetry Festival in 2015 and we’ve had two successful sold-out festivals, and are planning our third, which will be running 7th-9th September 2018.  My favourite part of my work as a freelance writer is running residentials.  A residential poetry course changed my life, and I believe they can be powerful and exciting.  This will sound cheesy, but the participants who come on my courses feel like part of my poetry family now.  Many of them return year after year, and it is a real privilege to work with them as writers over the years.

Perhaps the most exciting thing that has happened to me happened very recently – my book, published in 2015, won the Geoffrey Faber Memorial Prize.  Maybe I’m destined to win prizes with the name Geoffrey in the title? The judges were Gillian Clarke, Katharine Towers and Tom Gatty, and Gillian said such nice things about my collection in her speech that she made my mum and dad cry.  It was particularly nice to win this prize because I knew nothing about it until I’d already won it, so no nail-biting shortlists, just a lovely surprise that I wasn’t expecting.

**I should have said something earlier about Kim’s generosity, and about how hard she works, and about her concern for those young poets, too. Hannah Hodgson is one of them, and she’s been a guest poet on the cobweb. Not only a poet, then, but an inspirational teacher too.

I’m going to finish with three poems I chose from the many she sent me. The first one I loved the first time I heard her read it at the Chemic Tavern in Leeds. It’s got the long sentences that she effortlessly breathes through, that never lose their balance, and possibly my favourite image, the moment that draws me in, that memorises itself


 we lay twice a week

in each other’s beds like two unlit candles.



 All the Men I Never Married
No 1.
(after Andrew McMillan)


There was the boy who I met on the park

who tasted of humbugs and wore

a mustard yellow jumper, and the kickboxer

with beautiful long brown hair that he tied

with a band at the nape of his neck, and the one

who had a constant ear infection so I sat always

on his left, and the guy who worked in an office

and could only afford to fill up his car with £2

worth of petrol and the trumpet player I loved

from the moment I saw him, dancing

to the Rolling Stones. The guy who smoked weed

and got more and more paranoid, whose fingers

flickered and danced when he talked, the one

whose eyes were two pieces of winter sky,

a music producer, long-legged and full of opinions

and more trumpet players, one who was too short

and not him, and one who was too thin and not him,

are you judging me yet, are you surprised?

Let me tell you of the ones I never kissed,

or who never kissed me, the trombonist

I went drinking with, how we lay twice a week

in each other’s beds like two unlit candles.

We were not for each other and in this we were wise,

we were only moving through the world together

for a time. There was a double bassist who stood

behind me and angled the body of his bass into mine

and shadowed my hands on its neck and all I could feel

was heat from his skin and the lightest breath

and even this might have been imagined.

I want to say to them now though all we are to each other

is ghosts, once you were all that I thought of.

When I whisper your names, it isn’t a curse or a spell or a blessing.

I’m not mourning your passing or calling you here.

This is something harder, like walking alone in the dusk

and the leaves, this is the naming of trees,

this is a series of flames, this is watching you all disappear.


Previously published in The Dark Horse


The next one reminds me of an exercise that Kim set…I think it might use a Clare Shaw poem as a starting point….but the focus is on those sins of omission that plague us sometimes before we wake up properly. The memory of a wrong that passes without our intervention, because we’re afraid to do what we think is right.

street row



   All the Men I Never Married
No. 15


Remember that night we’d been out drinking

and on the way home heard raised voices,


saw a couple across the road, arguing, leaning

towards each other and then he slapped her,


once, across the face then turned and walked away.

She stood there for a while and then she followed,


down Rawlinson Street as the lights from passing cars

fell on her, then swept on by.  We didn’t call out


or phone the police.  We didn’t speak, not to her

or him or to each other.   When we got home


we didn’t talk about the woman in the denim skirt,

holding her white shoes by the straps.  I wasn’t


close enough to see her feet, yet I remember them,

the blackened soles from walking on the pavement,


the sore on the heel where the strap had rubbed

and raised a patch of red.  We did not speak of her


and so we made her disappear, limping into the night,

trying to keep up with that man, who knew she’d follow


so did not turn around, hands thrust into his jeans,

front door key hot between his fingers.


Previously published in Poetry Ireland Review


Finally, an absolute stunner, a showstopper. A poem that should make you rethink what you feel about Keats’ ‘Ode to a Grecian urn’ and its ‘still unravished bride of quietness’. How easily that ‘unravished’ can slide past your attention. It makes me think especially of Bernini’s “Apollo and Daphne” that’s so astonishingly made, so flawless, that you forget what it’s about, what’s happening. I chose this to say thank you for the gift of Ovid, and the tales of metamorphosis and transformation, and for the way Kim’s poems that confront the business of domestic abuse and its trauma made me see the Greek myths differently, and made them help me to see my own life more clearly.


 When I Open

When I open my ribs a dragon flies out
and when I open my mouth a sheep trots out
and when I open my eyes silverfish crawl out
and make for a place that’s not mine.

When I open my fists two skylarks fly out
and when I open my legs a horse gallops out
and when I open my heart a wolf slinks out
and watches from beneath the trees.

When I open my arms a hare jumps out
and when I show you my wrists a shadow
cries out and when I fall to my knees
a tiger slips out and will not answer to me.

Now that the tree that grew in my chest
has pulled up its roots and left, now that I’m open
and the sky has come in and left me with nothing
but space, now that I’m ready to lie like a cross

and wait for the ghost of him to float clear away,
will my wild things come back, will the horse
of my legs and the dragon of my ribs,
and the gentle sheep which lived in my throat

like a breath of mist and the silverfish
of my eyes and the skylarks of my hands
and the wolf of my heart, will they all come back
and live here again, now that he’s left,

now I’ve said the word whisper it rape
now I’ve said the word whisper it shame
will my true ones, my wild, my truth,
will my wild come back to me again?


Previously published in The North



What a way to end the year. Here’s a prayer and a candle lit for 2018. May your wild come back to you again. Although , in Kim’s case, I think that it possibly has.


If you haven’t already bought her books, then now’s the time.

If we could speak like wolves:  [smith|doorstop 2012]

(available via the Poetry Business)

The art of falling   [Seren 2015]


Special Edition: for Kim Moore and for ‘The art of falling’


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.