When reading in London alongside Fiona Moore last week, I was reminded just how difficult it is to write about grief without seeming maudlin. If Moore’s first full collection, The Distal Point (HappenStance Press, 2018), is perhaps the most successful treatment of this subject since Douglas Dunn’s Elegies, how does she pull it off?
Throughout her collection, Moore is walking on a tightrope, managing to affect her readers while dodging the trap of sentimentality. She does so by employing restraint. In this context, restraint doesn’t imply emotional castration but instead the holding back of waves of feeling so that minuscule overflowing inversely becomes far more powerful than a huge flood.
One such example of her technique is the ending to ’Unknown ’, in which three characters – an imagined child, the absent partner and the first person narrator – are brought together to powerful effect:
“If you’re a ghost that walks
beside me, she is doubly so. But she
grows older with time
whereas you don’t – soon
the gap between you and me will show.”
There’s not a single adjective in this stanza. Adjectives implicitly involve personal interpretation and judgement, so Moore avoids them here. She’s seeking the layering of apparently minor details, playing off the destinies of you and she, separating them via line breaks, building up to the bald reportage of her killer final line. Like all killer final lines, it takes us back to the beginning of the poem and suggests we might start reading all over again.
The Distal Point richly deserves its recent short listing for the T.S. Eliot Prize. Maybe the only surprise is that its delicate impact should receive such recognition. Of course, the biggest personal reward for Fiona Moore is the consequent access to a larger readership. For the wider poetry community, it represents a timely reminder that craft provides us with a gateway to art and must never be underestimated.