Wendy French responds to the compassion in Hubert Moore’s poetry
This book is dedicated to the people we keep in detention centres and as these centres are very much in the news as I write (August 2018) the timing of the publication of this book is a pertinent reminder of the plight of detained people. Congratulations to John Lucas and Shoestring Press for this publication.
This is Hubert Moore’s ninth collection and he manages through his craft and sensibilities to bring, yet again, heart-rending freshness to his work. Since his retirement from Head of English at Cranbook Grammar School, Moore has worked endlessly for victims of torture and repression.
In all of Moore’s work there is an inherent truth that is portrayed in an authentic and non-poetic way and yet what he writes is poetry, nothing more, and nothing less. This is a skill that pervades all his work. As an example here is a fragment from “Rag Doll”
Rag doll with a difference. Toss it on the heap And it stays there, lies anyhow...
This writing gives such a clear picture of what it must feel like to be a rag doll (= asylum seeker or refugee). The image of the rag doll conveys a feeling of limpness, being out of control both of the body and the mind. The rag doll is controlled by someone more powerfu. and is easy to discard, throw away, ignore, pull apart, destroy.
The next lines come from “Apple” – which he wrote on the train returning home after seeing an exhibition of Rembrandt’s work at The National Gallery.
I can see the blistered patch of skin -damage on the cheek, beneath the right eye.
From this we learn that Moore carries the plight of the victimised with him wherever he goes and this is exactly what gives his work the authentic quality that makes his poems compelling reading.
There are truths in Moore’s work that we cannot escape from:
“At The Garburn Pass” A six-bar gate, each bar a blade of snow, a dry stone wall and a wire fence (two years you've been detained) on poles hoisted above it. This must be the widest greetings card there's ever been.
The first five lines of this poem are a bleak, truthful description of a six-bar gate and wire fence; but then the next line lifts the poem to another level. The subtlety of the message of the greetings card to a place of suppression and hard reality makes the first five lines even more sinister than they at first appeared. I had to go back and keep reading this poem because of the horrific picture it impressed on me. But I needed to read this poem, this book. It has changed me.
The Tree Line is not an easy read and is not meant to be. Yet the poetry is beautiful in its compassion, subtle and haunting:
Somehow you stole off, coaxed that thing up to a crack of light, allowed it to have happened, spoke it, wrote it, flew the fact of it as a flag in the wind…
Flags denote countries, boundaries, rules and barriers. The wind is free. We are not.
I ask myself : how can I connect to these people whom I don’t know (yet who are just like you and me) whose lives are so unimaginatively complicated and painful that I can’t begin to understand. The answer has to lie in the reading of these poems and books like this one so the horror of some lives can be remembered.
This book illustrates the inhumanity that human beings are capable of inflicting on one another. The poems are a reminder of what it is to be human and how those of us who have lived our lives in a free society have a responsibility to others who have suffered degradation, torture and separation from their families.
The least we can do is read this book and so have some thoughts for the feelings of the people whom Hubert Moore has worked with, supported and given hope to in his work and writing.
The Tree Line is a fine book of accomplished poetry and for a slim volume speaks volumes of grief, compassion, love and endurance. All human life is precious.
…What faith Wants to hear Is how the field with sheep in it rises, feeds On your joy, your watching. (“Feeders”)
By writing these poems Hubert Moore is declaring that all human beings deserve respect, to be acknowledged and to know that no one is forgotten.
Wendy French’s latest book is Thinks Itself A Hawk from Hippocrates Press 2016. She is joint editor with Professors Michael Hulse and Donald Singer of The Hippocrates Book of the Heart, published by Hippocrates press September 2017