I was once awoken in the dead of night by the kitchen knives. Not by the cutlery but the other knives. At least, I later attributed the voices to them.
More precisely, I was awoken by the sound of my name. The call was quiet and lacked malevolence but, once in the kitchen, I opened the drawer and, seeing the jumble implements, I knew that that the voice was there. I handled a carving knife as the freezer buzzed on and off – on and off, before carefully returning the knife to its rightful place and retreating back up the stairs.
Fiona Moore’s second HappenStance pamphlet, Night Letter, exists in the dream world and Moore’s visions of love, pain and stoicism are arresting. The pamphlet opens with Numberless, where ‘Sometimes in one of those dreams / where everything is out of place / but only a little, the dreaming self / realises: oh, it was always / like that. The television did / always sit on the narrow work top, / bulging slightly.’ Moore’s line breaks destabilise the universe as first we read that ‘everything is out of place’ before the clarification of ‘but only a little’ and we acknowledge the truth that a small change in the domestic environment is a big change. The poem’s list structure is another device and, as we reach the end, we realise that Moore has wound her fist back for her knockout blow. I hate spoiling the ends of poems, so I promise that I’ll do this only once in this review: ‘It’s as if / the dream were acknowledging / numberless permutations / of daily life, so our waking selves / don’t need to, otherwise long ago / I’d have walked through the upstairs / bedroom window which leads, / by now, to many places.’
In the next poem, Dimensional, Moore trains her eye on the laundered duvet: ‘The duvet cover’s swollen like an indigestion dream / and has assumed the characteristics of the clothes / it swallowed, so that fingers trying to tug it out // grate against the blue shadow of jeans, and once / the wet, distended lump is pulled free, the duvet clings / to everything as a deep-sea stomach might.’ The duvet, synonymous with womblike warmth and reassurance becomes cold and resistant. This isn’t even Gothic. There are no uncanny effects at play here, as what Moore offers is nakedly monstrous ‘and large enough // [… wait for it… ] to ingest a human.’
The pain of bereavement, as articulated by the pamphlet, is intensified by atheism. In Night Letter, the speaker imagines her loved one ‘floating, out there / somewhere between angel and ectoplasm’ tipping the poem either into spiritualism, or the ridiculous excess of Ghostbusters and the first person speaker gives the poem both the tone of a confession and of an address to her lost love. Again, Moore makes her language work as it tears itself between poles of hope and despair.
The pamphlet is initially divided. In sleep sonnet, Moore offers us seven lines, severed at the caesura by chasms of space: ‘I last touched the world of sleep at midday when sun shone through / and through a train and the women opposite was painting / her nails an ocean of deep red stations trailed unreal names. However, in the final poem, Heart, the left and right hand columns go about their own business but are, nevertheless, inextricably linked.
Last year, when I attended the Forward prize for poetry, Jeremy Paxman said that contemporary poetry has “connived at its own irrelevance” and that poets today have stopped talking to the public, only addressing one another. Paxman also suggested that the performance poetry was providing the only significant action the contemporary scene. In The Ode Less Travelled, Stephen Fry claims that ‘much poetry today suffers from anaemia. There is no iron in its blood, no energy, no drive. It flows gently, sometimes persuasively, but often in a lifeless trickle of the inwardly personal and the rhetorically listless.’ These guys should be reading Fiona Moore.