At first reading, many of the poems in Fiona Moore's HappenStance pamphlet, The Only Reason for Time, might seem to be about her partner's death several years ago when in his late forties.
However, this collection doesn't explore death or even grief. Instead, it's a life-affirming record of the emergence from grief. By that, I don't mean the shedding of the past or any so-called rebirth. Instead, it's the portrayal of a process whereby the poet moves from remembering to remembrance. It's a treasuring of what has been experienced, enjoyed and suffered, a treasuring that enables us to carry on.
Let's take the example of one poem from the early part of Moore's pamphlet, titled The Shirt. It's full of images that impact on the reader:
"They must have had to work so hard to
save you there was no time to unbutton it.
An office shirt, because that's where
it happened. The thin stripes slashed through -
terrifying, unprecedented - a reminder
of everything I wanted to forget..."
Okay, so the first lines really strike home and are wonderfully written, but the core of this poem follows them - the shirt as reminder and memory. It ends with...
"...and from then on,
nothing happened that we would forget."
These days, funerals often seem to be termed "celebrations", as if there were some miraculous short cut through grief. Moore is only too aware that this isn't the case. The Only Reason for Time traces her route out of it, as in the poem On Dunwich Beach. It's ceremonial, like a rite. The protagonist reaches the shore, gets ready and swims. The end of each stanza is a staging post:
"...undressing for you...swimming for you...searching for you...dying for you...breathing for you...living for you."
This poem encapsulates the process that I mentioned earlier on in my post - the emergence from grief. Verse has the capacity to transform, for example, remembering into remembrance, but it can only manage this in the hands of the ablest poets. In The Only Reason for Time, Fiona Moore demonstrates that she is among them. Her collection is a huge achievement.
This is the fourth in the series of reviews I have been posting over the summer months of the 5 collections chosen for the 2017 Forward Prizes Felix Dennis...