D A Prince examines some of  the subtleties that make Hubert Moore’s poetry so effective

hubert mooreThe Bright Gaze of the Disoriented
Hubert Moore
Shoestring Press
ISBN 978-1-910323-05-2
60 pp. £9.

Hubert Moore’s full collections have been appearing since 1979, and although this is his eighth collection he may be more immediately recognisable for his prize-winning Poetry Business Pamphlet, Beautifully Kept Things (2003). In it he shared his sense of grief and loss at the death of his wife through a careful, tender recording of the ordinary domestic tools and implements that had defined her daily life. It is a perfect pamphlet. However, his more recent collections from Shoestring Press allow him to balance his reverence for daily rituals – an area he writes of with wit, reverence and appreciation – with a wider, more political acknowledgement of the fragility of the world. After retiring from teaching, Moore has spent nine years as a Writing Mentor for the Care of Victims of Torture, and this has a profound effect on his outlook. The poems in The Bright Gaze of the Disoriented expand on themes already established in The Hearing Room (2006) and Whistling Back (2012) – the refugee, the exile, the outsider, the closeness of their lives to ours.

Moore writes out of his own experience as a quiet, focussed listener to other voices. Yet this does not preclude writing about his own life: the opening poem, ‘Sunflowers’, repeats the way in which he opened Whistling Back, with a poem about the cover, to the artist of the painting – in both cases Haymanot Tesfa. Here the two figures, male and female but with heads of sunflowers, draw in not only the viewer but also the reader –

… as though
you, dear viewer, were the sun,
you the moving spirit in this,
the light that conjured the artist’s
colour and passion and wit.

So we, the readers, have an equal role in this shared space, and increasingly in the shared perceptions of the collection. In ‘Following lorries’, an apparently simple description of motorway driving, the reader is urged to rejoin the slow lane and move in behind a lorry where

you can almost see into
the cavity, eye-crawl through
to the fierce low place

where, in egg-shell skulls,
young men’s stories are hatching
to the howl of wheels.

It’s that almost that draws us in: not a promise but an imaginative shift that brings us (generally the UK-born, natively-safe reader) almost eye to eye with a hidden refugee. This is so clear an image that it’s easy to overlook Moore’s subtle half-rhymes – skulls/wheels. This is a feature of his writing: rarely a full rhyme but more often this suggestive allusion of sound – caging/village, freedom/gleam, one/Lune, fetching/watching, good/brood – all these being from ‘What the Lune saw’.

Some poems shine a searchlight on to torture, as in ‘After 209’, one of several poems in which Nasrin Parvaz has provided a literal translation from the Farsi. A note tells us that Ward 209 in Evin prison, Iran, is where prisoners are taken for interrogation and torture.

Hear the raw gap that finds
its tongue in Keyvan’s mouth.

Listen to Elnaz, her right leg
blurting out the livid
thing they did to it.

Moore’s evocations, in other poems, of a more familiar world only serve to bring the sense of this horror closer. He spans the two in ‘Letter to Siberia’, a poem in which the language initially seems to be that of immigrants but gradually reveals itself to be about migrating geese.

There are dangers, of course, we keep watch.
We are one, the four or five hundred of us,
that is our saving; we waddle together,
we keep a sense of each other
as we did on the flight out.

The syntax that is almost (I keep returning to that word) our native tongue but is subtly non-English underlines how close the migrants are to our own lives –

our goose-flesh longs for the cutting
glitter of home and we ride
at not quite ease, not quite anchor.

It’s a small but significant difference: at not quite ease instead of the expected not quite at ease.

Moore examines his own life, too, and often with wry amusement. There is the surreal experience (in ‘Fifth of Four’) of being in what is announced as Coach Five of a four-coach train – and the delighted half-rhymes of is/ease, five/of, not/yet, interspersed with the teasing full rhyme of caught/thought, firing/desiring. There is the warmth of ‘Missed call’ – You phoned just after you hadn’t quite/ seen an osprey. Your friend saw it – a simple enough opening but which turns to a soft-voiced love poem in the last line – Please phone, love, when you miss an osprey again. And there is the Dear thieving man, the subject of ‘To the man who picked my pocket on the 149’, where the pickpocket and the poet ultimately share the same trade –

… I start again and again
at Dalston Junction. You do too – how
in broad daylight, this man
on the bus was staring out of the window,
pocketing people’s stories.

Is Moore protecting himself against any possible accusation of theft? I never felt that he used those who had slowly and painfully shared their stories with him; instead, he allowed me, as reader, to sit beside him, listening, being part of his quiet attention. His consistent focus, his unsentimental narrative voice allows him to reveal how close we are to those who have only just survived, those who have no fluent voice of their own.

Moore does not write fictions or fanciful inventions: the closeness and reality of what he hears and experiences is the source of his poetry. It is unfailingly human, moving the heart in its precise depiction of frailty and suffering but with enough of love to offer hope. He wears his considerable poetic skills lightly, keeping them subservient to the humanity that is central to his poetry even in the face of inhuman torture; there is a strong sense here of a poet drawing the whole world into his poems.


D A Prince lives in Leicestershire and London. Her first full-length collection, Nearly the Happy Hour, was published by HappenStance Press in 2008, and a second collection Common Ground appeared in autumn 2014.