New chapbooks by Fiona Moore and Chrissy Williams
make favourable impressions on Thomas Ovans

 

 

Flying into the Bear by Chrissy Williams                                     The Only Reason for Time by Fiona Moore
HappenStance 2013                                                                                                              HappenStance 2013
ISBN 978-1-905939-89-3                                                                                                 ISBN 978-1-905939-90-9
pp 32   £4                                                                                                                                                  pp 28  £4

 

These two pamphlet collections have been published by the same publisher at roughly the same time and they shared a London launch event: but they are books of contrasting style.  Both however succeed quite well on the terms they set themselves.

williamsFlying into the Bear, a second pamphlet collection by Chrissy Williams, is a book of contrasts in itself.  It opens with an imaginative and mildly surreal poem about an artist who was asked by the poet to draw me a heart and instead he drew a bear; and this is immediately followed by a swift-moving and realistic piece of reportage about the 2011 London riots (Tottenham is on fire and I work in an arts centre / where the sky is blue ...).  A couple of pages later we have a delightful prose poem about a child blowing bubbles; then another bear poem (beginning with a joke that literally and grimly falls flat); and then a poem about moorhens which begins in a way that might appeal to a child but quickly and mystifyingly  turns into something much more alarming:

Red beak like a clay nose
you can put your face into,
tip dipped into yellow paint. On.
Ho, ho, ho. What have we here then?
The mask cannot be taken off again.

As this quite gripping poem continues, its sinister references to Punch & Judy call to mind the skilfully-crafted darkness in David Harsent’s 1984 collection Mr Punch.

Puppets and/or performing animals (not counting multiply-recurring bears) appear a couple times more in the collection – once in the form of a dialogue between Ezra Pound and Cheryl (aged 6) and once in the form of stage directions for a dog in what might be an experimental staging of Romeo & Juliet.  Both of these poems are intriguing but, in the end, I found them a little unsatisfying. Perhaps they needed a touch more development?  Or perhaps I simply missed the point?

I might have felt rather puzzled and excluded by several more of the poems if it had not been for the helpful notes at the back of the book.  These notes are, in themselves, quite unusual because they offer links to relevant websites and online video clips – a strategy which is quite in keeping with the media-savvy tone of a book which features texting, a love poem to a video game and a dedication to someone identified only by their Twitter address.

For me, the strongest elements in the book include the London riots poem, ‘The Burning of the Houses’, and the darkly ominous ‘Moorhens’, both of which have already been mentioned.  To these I would add ‘Look, Vernon, Look’, which is based on an anecdote about Dylan Thomas and Vernon Watkins.  In this poem I particularly like the description of a bird stuffing his chest with the threat of a song.  Even better is the way that Williams catches an authentic echo of Thomas’s lively lilting voice in the injunction to look how calmly he sits now, like a dog, biscuit-patient.

Overall, Flying into the Bear is the work of a promising poet who appears to be exploring a range of styles and moods and is still discovering her greatest strengths.

mooreBy contrast, Fiona Moore in her first collection The Only Reason for Time, seems already to have found a voice.  This is a more consistent collection – which is not to say that it lacks variety; rather that the variety is carefully controlled.   Many of the poems are elegiac responses to a particular bereavement.  But her approach to this dark subject is inventive.  One poem, ‘The Shirt’, tells how clothing cut from a patient in an emergency ward looked like a plan / of something about to be put together; while another, ‘Hunger’, (which uses an intriguing symmetrical stanza structure) explores an equivalence between eating and mourning.

’Getting up at Six’ seems to be a kind of prequel to mourning in which Moore remembers early mornings when

…as I hear you gather one by one
the things you heaped on the table late last night,
I wonder, what does it feel like to be you

In some ways this is a pivotal poem. The mention of a phone bumping against your chest acquires extra significance when later we become aware of the tragedy that was waiting to happen.  And the way that the gate screeches as you lift the cold bar of the latch echoes the evocative opening poem ‘Postcard’ about negotiating an unfamiliar landscape via numerous gates with their different fastenings all needing to be mastered.

The book’s title poem comes from a remark made by Einstein. In it, Moore combines notions of time and space with a revisiting of the clothing image as she speaks of the Aran jersey of our first kiss, folded / to two dimensions, collapsing time / from its fourth.  These integers of dimensionality are not the only numbers to occur in Moore’s poetry: she also writes about the zero/one binary mode of forget/remember; and digits are etched in faded indigo on the arm of a concentration camp survivor. The bleak refrain nothing + nothing is an answer runs through another poem; but elsewhere, in more cheerful vein we find a vivid and precise memory of seeing five nuns / like pints of stout / just poured.

Moore’s poetic eye is wide-ranging. It can take in both the wideness of a shifting coastline (no one has stood here before … no one will stand here again) and also the rarely-examined narrowness and focus of a plug hole in a kitchen sink.  Moreover she can suggest intriguing interpretations of what she observes. In ‘Overwinter’ she notices how the ground mist floats the trees/whose outlines are all gesture; and in a poem based on words by the Greek poet George Seferis she tells us

    The river’s surface had many variables:
downstream flow, tides weather and unknown.  The house
reflected it on white ceilings, to be read
like the palm of a hand whose fortune kept changing.

This is a well-made and thoughtful collection which – for all its preoccupation with personal loss and regret – is also inclusive, even to the extent that the final poem offers readers a novel way of relating to their own memories and ghosts.