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The Distal Point by Fiona Moore (HappenStance Press)

The Distal Point by Fiona Moore (HappenStance Press)

Reading the title poem of this debut collection I am tempted to think of Yeats’s gyres, those cones which he imagined as interpenetrating and whirling around inside one another.

“We stand at the point of greatest change—
the distal point, a shingle spit
at the end of the longshore drift.
Here the waves curve
and spill, lacing each other,
forming a landscape that moves
leached of colour.”

There is an eerie sense of threat in that last line with “leached” bringing to mind a world of infertility after so many chemical substances have been removed through intensive farming. The eye may be focussed upon the sea but the use of the word “landscape” suggests more than just a visual note about wave movement: poetic image is merged with futuristic nightmare and we are presented with a world that echoes the closing images of H.G. Wells’s The Time Machine:

“The sea stretched away to the southwest, to rise into a sharp bright horizon against the wan sky. There were no breakers and no waves, for not a breath of wind was stirring. Only a slight oily swell rose and fell like a gentle breathing, and showed that the eternal sea was still moving and living.”

The second stanza of Fiona Moore’s poem opens with mystery:

“No-one who stands here
can see down the length
of the wind’s fetch
and only the gulls measure
the shape of the swell
as they swing high
on the full, low in the swale”

A feeling of isolation is brought to mind by the opening word and then strengthened in the second line by the eye’s movement “down the length” before finding further desolation with the open sound of “wind’s fetch”. The steady build-up of menace is then emphasised by placing the word “only” in relation to the gulls measuring that mathematical distance and we are confronted with a glimpse of what their birds’ eye view might hold: “the shape of the swell”. The concluding stanza confirms us in the feeling of isolation:

“and no-one has stood here before
where each accretion of ground
becomes an erosion
from the diagonal swash
and straight backwash,
the waves’ refraction and landfall.
No-one will stand here again.”

The negative of “no-one” takes on a positive presence with that opening line and if there is any hope to be preserved at this distal point it is that another “No-one will stand here again.”
Fiona Moore’s convincing understanding of the power of immediacy can be felt in both ‘Taking Visitors to Auschwitz’ and ‘After Five Years’. In the former she opens with a clarity of statement which seems to offer superficial realisation but which acts as a mask for much deeper moral understanding:

“It’s here
except it’s not.
This could be anywhere or on the edges of.
That car’s parked askew
and sparrows forage on the tarmac
while people pose each other at the entrance.”

We are in the world of course of Auden’s ‘Musee des Beaux Arts’ or ‘The Shield of Achilles’: suffering takes place “While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking / dully along”. Auden wrote of the ordinariness of torture and the infliction of pain:

“Barbed wire enclosed an arbitrary spot
Where bored officials lounged (one cracked a joke)
And sentries sweated for the day was hot”

In Moore’s world “Coaches drop off groups / and pick them up again”; but she moves one step further on than Auden. Whereas the earlier poet had offered us that mundanity of pain she concludes with a prompting nudge of responsibility:

“This could be anywhere or on the edges of

except it’s not,
it’s here.”

And this is one of the most powerful things about this remarkably confident first volume of poems: its understanding of the present. In ‘After Five Years’ Moore creates for us a returnee:

“You’ll carry in strange dust on your feet
if you come back now: from as far away
as this thought, out of the first twilight
long enough to feel like spring.

Orbiter of legend and distant stars…”

This is no space voyager returning to earth but a personally-known traveller whose absence has been felt. The returned traveller will be compelled to recognise what has changed in those five years of absence and will become “dazed” by both what is new and what has stayed the same. There will be a “perfection of circumstance”.
This is a debut volume of poems which stops the reader in their tracks: buy it, read it, and then read it again.

Ian Brinton 30th June 2018

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