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All The Men I Never Married

Kim Moore
ISBN-13: 
9781781726419
Publication Date: 
Monday, October 4, 2021
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“All the Men I Never Married is a work of immense focus, intelligence and integrity.” – The Yorkshire Times

This eagerly awaited second collection of poems from Kim Moore is pointedly feminist, challenging and keenly aware of the contradictions and complexities of desire. The 48 numbered poems take us through a gallery of exes and significant others where we encounter rage, pain, guilt, and love.

The book opens with a rally-cry that is also a warning: ‘We are coming under cover of darkness,’ and continues with the description of ‘We’ as being woman, both witch-like (feared) and oppressed, with ‘hobbled’ childhoods and spaces that were ‘given’.

The book moves in a roughly chronological way from here, with early poems about the innocent friendships of childhood that have a dreamy, anticipatory quality. They foreshadow a later eroticism, but also hint at fear, with the awkward boy with ‘unwashed clothes’: ‘We hated the way you followed us around…’. Then come the terrifying episodes of violence or near violence – incidents in which our narrator barely escapes rape at a party, or where the narrator’s friend suffers the consequences of defending herself from unwanted attention in a nightclub, ‘that being in public is a dangerous thing’.

There are also amusing anecdotes as in 12: After the reading… which reports a confrontation with a male in the audience who accuses her of objectifying the male gender. The author observes a naïve younger self just coming to terms with sexuality and speaks of desire, touching upon its inherent power, its temptations and deceptions. There are a number of poems that re-enact the ‘easy misogyny’ of everyday life and observe it from an appalled distance. An episode with a taxi driver where casual banter becomes increasingly threatening rings only too true.

All The Men I Never Married is a powerful collection of deeply thoughtful and deeply felt poetry.

 

All the Men I Never Married is absolutely gripping; I’ve been reading and rereading it obsessively. Moore’s dazzling catalogue of poems swivels the spotlight onto her male subjects with a lyricism and genius “as high and bright as a lantern”. Sometimes nostalgic, sometimes wounded, and sometimes furious, these are searing, musical reckonings with the indifferent lovers, the misogynists, the gorgeous wonders, the heartbreakers, the stalkers, the drinkers, the inspirational teachers, and the abusers we still fear, as Moore confronts both the major harms and the frustrating coercions of being female in a male-dominant world. We are tired of being threatened and hurt, tired of being talked at, tired of being told what we ought to mean; these sublime poems say it all, and it feels like rain after drought, a beautiful release. This book is a revolutionary and subversive requisition of the female gaze, and it will be canonical.” – Fiona Benson

“From the first time I heard Kim Moore read some of these poems, I knew the collection which followed must be a classic. I love the times in these poems – such as the moment in the first poem when a list of former loves gives way to the extraordinary lyric line ‘all we are to each other is ghosts’ – when, without turning away for a second from any of life’s realities, experience is rendered completely beautiful. These deeply empathetic and unforgettable poems go everywhere, see everything and one feels, again and again in this collection, that a poet of the greatest gifts is addressing the most important of subjects, for all of us. We meet these transcendent, vital poems with gratitude and celebration.”  – Jonathan Edwards

“Moore’s poetic testimonials expose the underbelly of society's misogynist micro infractions. These deceptively plaintive lyrics are fraught hymns that testifies, catalogues, and interrogates the policing of women’s bodies in contemporary society. Her poetic witnessing excavates these ordinary infractions committed daily alongside the ensuring silences that haunt women’s desires and exploit their vulnerabilities. Her provocative poems are urgent and necessary and vital.” – Malika Booker

 

In this film poem, Kim reads poem number 47 from the book which opens ‘All night a bird’. 

 

REVIEWS

Review by Megan Fernandes, Poetry Foundation

Sunday, February 20, 2022

Kim Moore’s All the Men I Never Married chronicles the poet’s interactions with men from childhood to adulthood—on the playground, in a club, at the pool, in dreams, in bed. Her collage of masculinities in their most cringy, violent, and empathetic forms, has the surreal effect of rendering masculinity both creaturely and formulaic. There are times when what happens in a given encounter feels unpredictable until, of course, it isn’t. It ends with an assault and a police station and the man’s father standing between them. It ends with a man “who thought he knew everything … as if he’d been touched and turned to gold by a foolish, laughing king.” 

Moore’s brilliant ability to gaze upon the fragilities that motivate men’s literal consumption of women’s bodies (an unwanted touch, a punch, a metaphorical terrestrial thirst), is so precise and deadpan. When a man complains that the man in her poem is too one-dimensional and asks “can’t you make him more interesting” she wishes she had said “no, I can’t—that’s the best thing about him,” instead, as she recalls, “maybe I just smiled—nodded my head.” The reader feels the authoritative weight of Moore’s narration. In poems where encounters with men are gentle, the speaker and the man are figured as parallel objects (candles, doors, boats) that never quite meet, but lean toward each other, anchored in their own ontology: “we lay twice a week in each other’s beds / like two unlit candles / we were not for each other and in this we were wise.” Moore understands that when we come into unwanted relationality with another, such intersubjectivity can be violent. Better to be a cohesive object of our own making.

I’ve been following Moore’s work for a few years and she remains, in my estimation, one of the United Kingdom’s most compelling poets. I’ve never read a mediocre poem by this poet and whenever I see her name on a publication, I don’t know exactly what I am in for, but I know I will be led.

Review by Thomas Tyrrell, Wales Arts Review

Thursday, February 17, 2022

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.

Review by Carla Scarano, London Grip

Friday, November 26, 2021

Kim Moore’s brave and honest poems engage the reader in a comprehensive feminist vision that challenges the roles assigned to women in a dominantly patriarchal society and exposes the contradictions and violence in such a society. The collection’s 48 poems sharply and insightfully trace the traumas, constraints and abuse the average woman undergoes from childhood to womanhood. Moore emphasises states of anxiety and guilt and an unsettling sense of estrangement from herself. The body speaks its own language, the language of desire, in an attempt to reconstruct the shattered self, which is confused by the everyday sexism and menaced by implicit or explicit threats made to women by men. The vulnerability of desire has dangerous implications in a man’s world where women are used and abused and their physicality is reduced to objectification.

Moore is based in the north-west of England. Her first full collection, The Art of Falling (Seren Books, 2015), is deeply rooted in her territory and is connected with her people. They are ordinary people ‘who swear without realising they are swearing’ and include ‘a line of women who bring up children and men who go to work’ (‘My People’, The Art of Falling). It also features a compelling sequence about an abusive relationship and the protagonist’s struggle to break free, a topic she develops further in her second collection, All the Men I Never Married, which has a wider breadth. The structure of the poems and the concepts that are elaborated connect to the personal and also to what happens in the actual world in a broader and universal perspective.

Moore also links her thought to the tradition of feminist writing, for example to Virginia Wolf and to Adrienne Rich, and, above all, to Hélène Cixous. These writers struggled to find their voices in a man’s world in which they are told what to say and think and how to behave:

where we are told to keep our legs closed,
where we sat in the light of a window and posed
and waited for the makers of the world
to tell us again how a woman is made.

Even the language they use is the language of men and, as Cixous remarks, in order to rediscover their inner self, women must write from their bodies from which they have become estranged. Their sexual pleasure has been silenced and denied, and to regain power they need to connect with their body in a free, unrestrained way. It is a complex, long process that needs constant self-interrogation as well as witnessing. Moore’s writing from the body is revolutionary and provocative:

[…] When I think
of your voice, my soul drifts downwards inside my body

like a leaf falling side to side through the air.

The poems are not titled but simply numbered and the above quote is from “14”.  Poem “15” includes the lines

[…] I thought sex was a promise
that would keep being fulfilled, I thought love was a knife
pressed to the throat. I thought there was a blade
in each of our hands. I am telling this now so he appears,
as real as that first night when he didn’t sleep.

And here is an extract from “25”.

When I tell them about my body
              and all the things it knows
they tell me about their guilt

they flourish their guilt
             as if they are matadors
in a city where people love blood

Moore finds her voice as a woman and attempts to invert the gaze; she is a woman who looks at men, speaks of men, experiences men. Her poignant and often dramatic stories describe how things are in an apparently objective way without making statements or judgements. Thus, her powerful practice of storytelling unravels the ambivalence of the roles assigned to women in society using a method of showing rather than telling. In her stories, women struggle to break free from a mental dependence on men who shape their lives and subdue their bodies. They are reduced to nothing, split between body and heart by destabilising forces of violence and desire, as is quoted in the epitaph. It is a game of gain and loss in which the risk of abuse and rape constantly emerges because ‘being in public is a dangerous thing’ and ‘our bodies are dangerous things.’

Moore is a master of repetition, especially anaphora and epistrophe, which create an enthralling impeccable rhythm; they allow a deeper exploration of her arguments and provoke the reader in a spiral of self-awareness urging change:

now I’ve said the word whisper it rape,
now I’ve said the word whisper it shame,
will my true ones, my wild, my truth,
will my wild come back to me again?
                                                                (“43”)

I let a man into my body and let him sleep
nside my room. I let him in, I let him in,
I said that he could do those things
but only in my mind. I let a man
into my room and took a vow of silence,
took a vow of there’s no turning back,
because a mind is not for changing. (“46”)

The poems speak of ‘transformation and violence and loss’ but also of the magic of being in a fulfilling relationship that makes us human. A sense of tenderness or longing for a romance of sorts reveals a profoundly empathetic side in Moore’s poems that counterbalances the stark descriptions of domestic violence and abuse. This opens up to hope and possible changes that nevertheless require a constant witnessing in a state of alert and fear of backlashes.

The themes of nothingness and violence against women also refer to works such as King Lear and Othello as well as to ancient myths, especially to the stories of Zeus’s rapes of Leda, Europa and Danae, which are revisited by Moore from an ordinary perspective. The god is ‘just a man / like and unlike any other’ and ‘no wife turned up/to take revenge / to transform me into a cow’. However, the abuse is present, just as it is in the myth, and it causes self-effacement and permanent trauma. Moore’s collection hits all the right notes in a wide-ranging view that is both lyrical and actual, as well as relevant to our time. It has that dreamlike quality, which good poetry often has, involving the reader in an imaginary world that is also the world we experience, challenging and reversing common views. Her vision is therefore incisive and crisp and invites us to act and to voice who we are.

Review by Greg Freeman, Write Out Loud

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

This remarkable and very readable book about “a gallery of exes and significant others” first emerged from academia. In an interview earlier this year Kim Moore explained that the poems in her second collection All the Men I Never Married have been drawn from her PhD thesis in Poetry and Everyday Sexism at Manchester Metropolitan University.

She added: “In my PhD, I wanted to examine my own experiences of sexism and what happens when you put the white space of a poem around that experience. The strange thing was that the things I was thinking of as just silly incidents that didn’t really mean much began to change as I was writing about them, and ‘sent’ myself back there …  When I turned them into a lyric poem, they suddenly began to present as being quite dark and upsetting.”

None of the poems have titles, only numbers. There are poems of awakening, early intimations of male threat: running away from “a man who pulled out his floppy dick / and waved it apologetically in our direction”; a night club assault during freshers week; a narrow escape from rape at a party, in which the poet interrogates the narrator, as if she was being questioned in a courtroom - 

 

     and the dark asks why

                        were you there in the dark

     and the wind asks

                         what were you doing upstairs

     and the moon asks why

                         why were you wearing that skirt

 

Other poems concern threatening cabbies, an ex who shares her poem on Facebook, rewinding an assault (“your fist moving away from my face”), and how a teenage ex became a stalker in her A-levels year, slashing her father’s tyres, convincing her mother to let him in then locking himself in the bathroom, and sending threatening texts:

 

     and so the police kept him overnight to think about his actions

     and rang his mother who had no idea how any of this happened.  

 

Some of the poems succeed like short stories. There is one about an encounter at a hotel, when a man who asks her where her room is, so that she has to slam the door on him;  and another, poignant look at an outgrown relationship: “I can’t / be bothered to keep being disappointed in you / and the way your beautiful animal face turned out.”

In a number of the poems the narrator is not a victim or powerless, but a rueful observer; or has misplaced feelings of guilt; or witnesses a fight in prison while there to teach a poetry class. A man waits after a poetry reading to tell her “how disappointed he is as I’m a better writer than this wasting my talent making cheap shots about men”, which ends “maybe I just smiled – nodded my head”.

She remembers the unjustified shame of facial hair, and of being banished to the Wendy House at school for biting a boy’s arm “when he tells me I’m not allowed to play with cars /because I’m a girl”:

 

     Blank-faced dolls stare up at me.

     Pretend oven filled with plastic fish-fingers.

     Pretend windows with flowery curtains

 

     sewn by someone else’s mother.

 

A crown of sonnets records the misusing of a woman’s image to produce ‘fake pornography’, that “falls / the wrong side of revenge, not quite assault”:

 

     He’s not broken any fucking law.

     He doesn’t know what she’s crying for.

 

There is the sudden, anguished cry: “God, I’m frightened for my daughter / and the risks she will take.”

I could go on. Should any man even attempt to review this book? Can he only read it as a kind of voyeur? One of its attractions to me is that it is largely written in everyday language, although there are moments of magical realism – “The woodcutter visited on nights when the moon / hid itself between the clouds”, and a mirror poem that won the Ledbury poetry competition, and ends: “I realise I cannot live / behind the wall, in the space between rooms. / All night a bird beats its wings.”

This collection is fascinating, and is published in a climate of still smouldering anger, outrage and fear in the wake of the appalling murder of Sarah Everard. I will be surprised if it is not shortlisted for an award or two. It certainly should be.

Review by Mab Jones, Buzz Magazine

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

ALL THE MEN I NEVER MARRIED: searing ‘everyday sexism’ testimonies everyone should read.

This second poetry collection by Kim Moore offers a series of personal testimonies which stand witness to the ‘everyday sexism’ that all women in our culture are subjected to. The book is sharp, searing, filled with an unflinching honesty yet wrapped, also, in a sublime sense of the lyrical – Moore is a master of pace and tempo, with a strong sense of how words fall on the ear as well as work on the page.

I’ve read Moore’s debut pamphlet and her first collection and both were brilliant – this third is no exception; except, I feel, it is braver, because it takes the ‘f word’ (feminist) and wields it as the necessary tool – no, not weapon – that it is. Yes, there is anger, there is even rage; but also there is love, tenderness, empathy, and often a complex intertwining of emotions, even in poems detailing what, in hindsight, are wrong, abusive, or aggressive actions by others.

A poem about the rape of someone Moore knows affected me particularly: “though your throat cannot remember saying no / your heart cannot remember saying yes”. A culturally significant book that everyone, everywhere – irrespective of their sex – should definitely read.

Review by Caroline Bracken, Nation.Cymru

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Kim Moore’s second collection All the Men I Never Married which is both devastating and devastatingly well written. The poems are numbered instead of titled but are listed on the contents page by their first lines which reads like a poem in itself.

The choice not to give the poems titles is an interesting one and shows a degree of confidence and faith in the poems to speak for themselves. It also serves as a kind of depersonalisation which reflects the experiences of women the poems describe and allows a flow from one poem to the other.

A prologue poem ‘We are coming under cover of darkness’ introduces the themes of the collection: the conditioning of girls, subjugation and silencing of women and how we are not taking it any more. This poem is a tour-de-force, a battle cry:

‘There will be riots,/ we’re carrying all that we know about silence/ as we return from the forests and towers.’

Written in italics, this poem reads like a spoken monologue as does poem number 6, ‘That a man approached you in a nightclub.’ Each line in this poem begins with ‘That’, a repetition which illustrates the onslaught of violence against women, it is a perfect example of form mirroring content.

The full range of Moore’s poetic talents are on display here, she experiments, uses white space on the page to full advantage, there are prose poems and an erasure poem. There is joy in the darkness as in poem 34 ‘I clip the mic to the bell of my trumpet’:

‘at the Haymarket Theatre      he taught me to watch the conductor

to mark up the parts with cues                 run to the bar and save his place
said if in doubt blast it out     and no such thing as an uncertain trumpet
that you could do something you loved and live’

If this poetry collection were a concert it would be a virtuoso performance warranting a standing ovation, bravo Kim Moore.

Review by Steve Whitaker, Yorkshire Times

Friday, October 22, 2021

Kim Moore’s brave and open-hearted new collection does not offer any form of resolution to the significant questions it sets itself, but rather a working through of continuing anxieties and turmoil. Her disparate use of form stresses mending at point of fracture, of bones knitting but leaving surrounding scar tissue. And we should not underestimate her skill at formal representation which is often manifested in broken lines, radical indentation and reinforcement by repetition, as though to circumscribe defiance in a tempered framework, whilst letting insecurity in like a breeze through unglazed windows. A tightrope walk proceeds in this breathtakingly authentic collection: acts of stoical defiance are met with ambivalence of motive; visceral concerns of abuse mitigated by ambiguity of experience. ‘It was complicated’ is the conclusion to poem no.14. (‘I imagine you at home’), and the assertion is delivered with commendable frankness.

Moore’s numbering of poems reads like a liturgy, an inventory of self-contained experiences. And it is worth remembering, in the retrieval of first lines as titles in an ongoing story, that each poem is humbling; an often harrowing, occasionally humorous, always candid picture of a life marked, to some degree, by abuse, casual misogyny and violence. Moore’s address is neither wholesale nor recondite, but it is shared by many, and her poetry gives language to the voiceless by virtue of its abundant sincerity. Tacit acceptance, in destructive relationships, does not abrogate responsibility for abusive behaviour, nor does it amount to complicity: a toeing of the dominant party line is sometimes a safer bet when there is no alternative recourse. Seeing the inconsistency through is the work of Moore’s poetry; institutionalised forms of domination are successfully brought to book at least partly because the poet allows balancing nuances to breathe.

A clever exchange of lines in 8. (‘On a train a man asks me what I’m reading’) enables an interplay between the abstraction of lyrical inner thought, and an outer intrusion of unsolicited male attention. The man’s anticipation of dialogue is one-way, presumed, and the process of unconscious inveigling is resolved as the narrator abandons herself, in the unlikely manner of Larkin’s ‘Dear Warlock-Williams’, to Vers de Société:

‘I smile and say what do you do tell me again and
how many kids do you have remind me again of your wife’.

Both forms of resistance stem from a solitary urge, and both relent on grounds of misplaced social etiquette, if in entirely different contexts. The act of giving in to over-arching male demand is repeated often here and the repetition is as damning of a kind of assumptive misogyny as it remains mostly unacknowledged. Moore’s ingenuity lies in pointing up the contrast between anodyne outward appearance and the reality of male control of social situations. In truth, the act of relenting is not conceived in terms of a shrug; rather is it counter-intuitive and self-effacing. The ad hoc, conspiratorial aggression of a teacher colleague in poem 20. (‘It’s just me and him’) is relentless, idiotic and incredibly destructive; the response she hates herself for - ‘Milk, no sugar, I say with a smile’ - is a convenient way out of awkwardness. If inheritance and the social structure are to blame for burgeoning abuse – the easy insults continue into the classroom in this alarming poem – then ingrained ignorance is an immovable object untroubled by notions of personal responsibility. That the narrator of 32. (‘You lived there for a week’) slams a door in the face of a man in a hotel corridor that may be a lift, in a country that is unnamed, anonymises an incident in order to foreground the generality of abuse, does not diminish her sense of rudeness in the moment. Effecting another form of displacement, she conceals the fear of being stalked behind a mask of unwarranted guilt and tells herself that ‘it was nothing’.

Perpetrated in schools even as recently as the time of Kim Moore’s primary education, the seamless apportioning of girls into categories of subservience is examined in 21. (‘When he tells me I’m not allowed’). Yielding an inference that thematic outliers are instrumental to the collection’s wider purpose, Moore’s fine poem of gendering, rules and recalcitrance is, or was, a losing battle. The sowing of early stereotypes may later be harvested in dynamics of power and subjugation, as the meticulous brutality of the final tercet presages:

‘She bends her cover back so the spine cracks,
balances it on one palm, turns to me and tells me
turn around, at once, face the wall.’

The poet is cognizant of the child’s enforced subjection - her earlier resistance is powerless to understand or countermand a ruthless, culturally-accepted, system of control administered in the ironic form of a woman. Kim Moore brings necessary venom to the table here and throughout her capacious continuum of anxiety. The location of antagonism in the commonplace, in the ‘throwaway’ male line, demands real skill because the problem is systemically embedded, mostly falling beneath the general radar.

Which dereliction will patently not be true of these poems, whose inner force lies in a recognition of not always having known, of a sense of continually acquired wisdom. The tentative and beautiful 15. (‘I knew he was dangerous’) retails a knowing abstraction mired in its own innocence, a dangerous yielding to imagined rewards: ‘Oh I knew nothing back then, I thought sex was a promise / that would keep being fulfilled’. The dull ache of Moore’s backward glance is turned into pain by the process of learning, as though the act of striving for permanence was as useless as the pursuit of happiness. Her pain is tortured by remembrance of demeanour and the body’s physical detail; her final lines enshrine as they valedictorise a series of formative experiences:

‘I knew nothing about what is was to be seen, what it means
to change or be changed, to appear, to burst like a star.’

The singular focus of violence is deftly handled. Moore’s capacity to stand back, to concentrate, enables her to excoriate abuse whilst retaining a measured exterior. The brilliant 16. (‘When you rewind what happened’) recalls a relationship marked by an extremity of verbal insults, and bolsters the narrator’s restoration of confidence by reversing the telescope of victimisation, obliging the perpetrator to swallow his own words, which are now recorded for perpetuity in a poem about ‘transformation and violence and loss’. Facing the ghosts of the past, the abuser must encounter an antagonist now entirely removed from emotional and physical reach.

A similar reversal is attempted in the devastatingly effective series of seven sonnets at 31. (‘I’m making this a #NotAllMen free zone’). Here, the bottled spider is the ‘deepfaker’, the man who digitally insinuates images of women into mostly pornographic scenarios. Echoing a recent, well-documented case of deepfakery in the poetry community, Moore’s long study measures the abuse, the mental violence enacted upon the victim, the perpetrator’s ‘harmless’ self-justification, and the refusal of male-dominated organs of the state to act, in rhythmical accretions. The sonnets amount, collectively, to a ballad of gradual exposure, rehearsing the pain of victimhood by degrees, deconstructing the antagonist’s self-delusion in his own words, and pronouncing him guilty where the law will not act:

‘Still, he’s fading like a puff of smoke,
like fog in winter air. Of course it’s fine,
he tells himself, she needs to take a joke.
She’s campaigning to make his crime a crime’.

Authentic to experience, psychologically incisive and viscerally engaged, 31. is relentlessly determined. Shadowing Blake Morrison’s ‘The Ballad of the Yorkshire Ripper’ if only tangentially, Moore achieves a kind of redress, and in so doing, opens her narrative to wider questions of male complicity: ‘You might feel implicated // if you’re a man. I’m casting this in stone. / I’m making this a #NotAllMen free zone’.

These are powerful, persuasive poems, reinforced by repetitions which do not strain narrative progression; rather do they act to declare affiliation, to bolster a sense of identity, to affirm emotional or intellectual independence, even to stave off fear. And if any or all of these are speculative assumptions, the reader may be certain that the repeated cries are declaimed in anger at endemic forms of abuse, often practiced with proprietorial insouciance, like the man who ‘brushes a drop of water’ from the thigh of a teenager on the log flume. (7. ‘Imagine you’re me, you’re fifteen’).

Female as ‘PROPERTY’, as male subject, underpins the vigorous mantra of no. 6 (‘That a man approached you in a nightclub’), whose repeated phrasing shakes our complacency like a drumbeat. Moore’s retelling of an incident where the victim strikes the first blow after being ‘manhandled’ is not compromised by her frankness, though it becomes clear that the triumvirate patriarchy of police, lawyer and abuser’s father thinks otherwise. It need not signify because the mea culpa is owned, as it so often is in Moore’s profoundly suggestive poetics, in the violence of the antagonist’s own words:

‘That he shouted I will end you, I will end you, I will end you.’

The victim, in one of this collection’s finest, most desperately affecting poems, is displaced suddenly by circumstance, the property of no-one, least of all his own son. No. 44. (‘I saw him fall’) captures the final hours of a man’s demise as though the memory were freeze-framed. Moore recalls the moment he falls over in the street, cradling his bloody head and remaining with him until the end. Describing, in utterly convincing detail, a slow retreat into darkness, the poet’s withering empathy for the dying man is manifested in an act of simple observation, and humanitarian fellow-feeling:

‘and I kept saying please be still, be still,
the ambulance is coming
. I held his head
in my hands, I could see the dark shine
of his eye, the swelling of his cheekbone.’

And it is characteristic of Moore’s skill at distilling reticence and self-doubt into her work that she is able to invest a depressing tableau with wider resonance, with irony, and with a tone of harrowingly authentic isolation at whose heart lies a sense of guilt. The lone woman and the dying man are the central figures in a silent vision untroubled by passers-by, who come and go like the disinterested passengers of ‘Adlestrop’. Her ministry, conducted in a state of anxiety, is the embodiment of undiluted empathy.

All the Men I Never Married is a work of immense focus, intelligence and integrity.

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