Eloquence of the Apple and the Language of Wolves
England is Mine,
Todd Swift (98pp $16.95, DC Books)
Kim Moore (32pp, £5, Smith Doorstep)
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
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.
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
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