Thomas Tyrrell reviews All the Men I Never Married by Kim Moore, a feminist poetry collection considering the contradictions and complexities of female desire.
From the first, #MeToo was longing to leap from the tweet into the spoken word and the printed page. A movement about speaking up and bearing witness found a natural ally in the open mics, pamphlets, journals, anthologies, blogs and magazines dedicated to the UK poetry scene—which, for all its much lamented and debated failings, has few entry barriers for a new poet determined to get their word heard.
The torrential outpouring of new material will be a gift to future postgraduates in search of dissertations and convenors of survey courses, and does something to validate one of the wilder puffs on the back cover of All the Men I Never Married: ‘it will be canonical’. For variety of technique, richness of imagery and sheer thematic coherence, Kim Moore’s volume well deserves a place on the required reading list.
From the outset, Moore makes the canny decision not to limit herself, as some poets have done, to the carnival of ex-boyfriends. So as well as the trials and tribulations of a serial dater of musicians, we get the thoughtful profile of a primary school sex-pest, a Georgie-Porgie who meets his come-uppance when one of the girls clocks him with a rounders bat. Some, like the alcoholic ex-housemate witnessed sleeping rough, or the members of a prison writing group, barely count as romantic possibilities—others get their chance and blow it, or move on—others are cruel, entitled, obsessed or dangerous.
Kim Moore knows what the heart knows and what the body knows, and she knows that they are rarely in agreement. She’s particularly good at the examination of her own acts of complicity, in the staffroom or on the train, but never at the poetry reading. Throughout, the poem and the poetry reading her own untarnished arena, less a safe space than a space of power. I’ve a general dislike of the second person in poetry, which too often feels either like you’re eavesdropping on a monologue or having someone else’s persona imposed upon you. Moore’s second person poems, however, are deliberate and explicit acts of framing and containment, encapsulating the encounter, the conversation, the relationship within the poem’s manageable confines. This is a place where the abusive partner has no power:
Sometimes I imagine
seeing you again, back row of chairs at an event,
your arms folded, listening to me read
about transformation, violence and loss.
You cannot touch me while I’m speaking
though what I’m speaking about is us.
It’s also a place to answer back to the carping mansplainers–one poem about a naked ex in bed is wittily and vengefully paired with a poem about the man who hangs around after the reading to take her to task about objectifying the aforesaid fellow. Exes who get back in touch on Facebook to say ‘I’m glad you didn’t write a poem about me’ find themselves her next targets. The poem is never a passive vessel for trauma, but always an active shaping and crafting of experience. There’s a swagger and confidence to Moore’s verse that refuses to be victimised, even in her saddest and bleakest poems, and it’s what will make this collection stand out in a crowded field.
All the Men I Never Married by Kim Moore is available via Seren Books.
Thomas Tyrrell has a PhD in English Literature and teaches English at the John Frost School. He is a longtime contributor to Wales Arts Review.