Emma Lee looks at the new Happenstance collection from Fiona Moore
The Distal Point Fiona Moore Happenstance Press www.happenstancepress.co.uk ISBN 978-1910131442 72pp, £10
This collection is split into three sections “Overwinter”, “Exclave” and “The Rose, the Stars”. The first builds a portrait of love and bereavement, mostly by exploring memories, some of which become more poignant and foreshadowed by hindsight. “Tower” starts “You’d never climb those worn stone/ spirals up the tower of a church/ or castle” and ends,
Once in France a church tower was so high and you so far away in the square under plane trees standing among wavy green shadows not of water but some unknown element that I was afraid of losing you until I climbed down, found you and gave you a kiss to prove myself wrong.
The gentle rhythm and long vowels remind readers that there’s no urgency because this is a memory and the poem’s ‘you’ is already lost to the narrator. This is further underlined by the “s” consonance and internal sound echoes (e.g. “shadows”/”unknown”, “prove”/“wrong”). The skill of the poem’s craft is worn lightly.
The second section concerns itself with boundaries, particularly leaving a comfort zone to witness the aftermath of horrific acts. One poem takes the reader to Auschwitz, another to occupied Poland. In “Museum”
This display's The Flowering of Industry: flowers for Madame from car plant workers but the cars they make are not on the streets, streets that are empty at night, and dark as the dark of the museum's windowless walls. One wall in each room is painted red with the reddest red in the last, empty room.
This poem builds a series of images of a dictatorial regime seeking efficiency and supremacy through industry and trade whilst keeping people in their gendered roles. The high-ranking woman receiving flowers is not expected to join the workers on the shop floor. The plans never come to fruition. The concept of a red wall in each museum room becomes a menacing motif leading to the chilling conclusion of the last line. The regime in question is not spelled out and the poem is not anchored in history, which suggests the events it records could well be repeated.
The third section feels the most contemporary. The section’s title poem is a love song for life, moving from childhood to adulthood and from morning to a night focused on stars. In “The Sound Crowds Make” a boy’s neck is trapped in a tube train door, head stuck in the carriage, body outside. The boy does survive,
The boy stays still, silent. OH! fourth time--disbelief--then the doors open. He stumbles backwards into people's arms, his face red and blank. The sounds echo now, the ohs-- how spontaneous each one was and how exact in its timing, and in the graded emotion; as if this is the kind of sound crowds make at executions of the surely innocent, when even the expected, the moment of death, must be a shock.
This poem is startlingly accurate in its capture of the collective “oh” that spreads as initial observers attract attention and focus from people standing nearby and the import of the situation spreads through the crowd. The final stanza extends the point to illustrate how crowds get caught in the drama of distressing events. The victim becomes a prop and loses his/her humanity because otherwise the crowd would stop being observers and might interfere in the actions most would prefer not to witness.
The Distal Point contains poems that are crafted and well-considered and they are supported by measured rhythms and careful selection of vocabulary.
Emma Lee’s most recent collection is “Ghosts in the Desert” (IDP, 2015), she co-edited “Over Land, Over Sea: poems for those seeking refuge,” and blogs at http://emmalee1.wordpress.com.