The Eloquence of the Apple and the Language of Wolves

England is Mine
, Todd Swift (98pp $16.95, DC Books)
Like Wolves
, Kim Moore (32pp, 5, Smith Doorstep)

These two collections, one by an established poet, and one by a promising young poet who has already started to distinguish herself with a Gregory Award and the Geoffrey Dearmer Prize, both share a preoccupation with place, and with finding a new language to explore locations which matter to them.

Swift is a Canadian who has made England his home and this new collection not only acclaims London as neighbourhood, but investigates its vibe and history. The opening poem, also the title poem, sets a clear agenda for the collection, with its strong references to Larkin:  sex, bicycle-riding, Hull and Winchester Cathedral, teacakes et al. It's a glace back to a simpler England, the England of English poetry. Swift's wit percolates the collection from the very first poem, but the England he sees is very different to Larkin's. Part of the collection is a bitter nostalgia for the past, such as 'The Gramophone':

   No answers but in spring
    (no death but out of season)
             Descending into
   summer, Inferno:
                               lovers, broken
   a wheel carrying language

   See, it turns

The unpredictable layout is reminiscent of vinyl records spinning on the turntable, which has a nostalgic imperative, but the words are elegiac. Swift is mourning, perhaps, for the lost innocence of England, the idea of an England which is often present in the minds of émigrés, but it is not the reality of the homeland. We see what is, in such poems as 'Hammersmith Capsule'. This poem discusses and meditates on a time capsule buried under a school playground, which will not come to light until the 'filthy scratched mosaic tiles' are destroyed and broken up, possibly by an explosion or earthquake. The poem is set in an edgy, scruffy London, a face of the city Swift does not shy away from. The last line is searingly beautiful:

   to show that what time carries across time is loss.

Swift's eye picks up every detail and accepts it. His attention to real places roots the poems in the contemporary. 'Paddington Recreation Grounds' is another such piece, but this time the people in the poem are free and exuberant, playing football, which Swift likens to poetry, in a philosophical meditation on how a poem is both playing an active game and standing on the sidelines watching it.

Kim Moore's poems have spirit too, and a similar insight into places, though very different scenes. Her imagery is often startlingly beautiful, for instance when she describes a path as 'the spine of some forgotten animal/ turning in its sleep' ('Walney Channel'), and St Bee's Priory on a snowy day becomes a 'huge mouth/ swallowing the cold' ('Messiah, St Bee's Priory). But Moore's poetry is not heavy with imagery: it appears relaxed, even anecdotal at times. 'Tuesday at Wetherspoons' and 'Train Journey, Barrow to Sheffield' are both people-watching poems, but she carefully edits and selects details which stay with the reader, much as Swift does in many of his disturbing London poems. Nor does Moore flinch from scrutinising embarrassing things, such as the couple she observed on Stickle Pike having oral sex. Instead she gives them the grace of being part of nature as she holds the scene up to her honest scrutiny. ('Picnic on Stickle Pike'). Her poem 'Sometimes you think of Bowness', a place I know very well indeed, captures the place and people's compulsion to go there, in a few deft stanzas.  It also holds close people's memories of innocent pleasures and celebrates places which have simple attractions, such as the lake, the ice-cream and the 'rowing boats like slippers'.

Also, like Todd Swift, there's a crackling wit in evidence. 'Hartley Street Spiritualist Church' where the medium makes random announcements and Moore places the reader firmly in the congregation. The poem is so seamless it is difficult to select a quotation as an example. Moore's line breaks are impeccably done, and in this particular poem she makes much use of enjambment, which creates the trance of the medium and the surreal quality of the whole service. Moore is not making fun of it at all, instead making it possible for the reader to do so. This is a good example of Keats' notion of 'negative capability', something I tend to prefer and look for in the poets I read.

Moore is also a musician, which is evident in both the attention to tonal and sound quality in her work, and her subject matter. She writes movingly of Wallace Hartley, the band leader on the Titanic, who was found drowned with his violin strapped to his back in its case, and a superb poem about the trumpet, 'Teaching the Trumpet', which has echoes of W.S Graham's 'Johann Joachim Quantz's Five Lessons' about teaching the flute (and writing poems).

Both collections are very fine and both poets assured and skilful, with things to say which are relevant and interesting. I firmly believe that age is completely irrelevant to writing; much more important is the amount of dedication and thought that goes into the work. Both of these poets will continue to develop and produce more work as good as this. And I for one will continue to read their work with pleasure. Nor do I believe it is the purpose of reviewing to look for fault, so I make no apologies for having found none. All a review needs to do is give a flavour of the work and express a personal preference. I like these two collections very much indeed.

    Angela Topping 2013