Night Letter, Fiona Moore
HappenStance, 2015, £4.00
Sense of place as anchor
Night Letter is a group of poems linked by themes of sleep, and sleeplessness and dream, within a broader context of grief. For me, though, another really important, unifying aspect is the collection’s concrete sense of place – specifically, London – and, indeed, one home therein. It’s like a stage set.
Having such a simple template anchors themes and impressions that could otherwise drift away or seem overwhelming. Here, though, the curtains draw back and we quickly realise we need only concern ourselves with this one protagonist, in this one basic stage-set – a bedroom, bathroom – with streets around, and trains to work.
It’s a very modest set. Within which the poems are freed up to do their exceptional work.
Consequently, for me too, and not just the poet, ‘the pavement becomes a ladder/ and then a rosary/ for this habit of thinking about time’. Time stretches here – it’s not an entirely fixed thing. The poet is walking along a ‘London Street, Wet Day’, while her child-self scales the trees she passes.
Sometimes, too, the sense of scene is amplified by unusual difficulty. Things stretch or shrink. Mrs-Pepperpot-like, the poet struggles with a newly-washed duvet cover, or to clean the bath.
My favourite poem is, perhaps, ‘City from a Hill, through Open Windows’. I love the perspective here. Again, we’re in the setting we already know. We can relax about that. We’re in the home and in the city we’ve already been told about:
Listen to the silence
of eight million sleeping – curled, sprawled,
together or alone –
a counterpane of bodies, each
held in its own breath-filled cell.’
The expansiveness of this vision – its almost childlike quality – is wonderfully compelling and evocative. But it’s earned, in part, I think by the fact it’s anchored in a clear and simple setting.
'Sleep Sonnet' in Night Letter
The shape of the poem 'Sleep Sonnet' echoes and reverberates throughout this collection. Its subversive form embodies the idea of sleep as jagged and elusive.
The pamphlet opens with the idea of wrongness in 'Numberless', where the words ‘everything is out of place / but only a little.’ could sum up the visual appearance of 'Sleep Sonnet'. As could:
interlocks with the next
['City From a Hill, Through Open Windows']
At first sight, 'Sleep Sonnet' has seven long lines with gaps in the middle but it could also be seen as two sets of seven short lines, twinned but not touching. Both seven-line sets offer the possibility of being read downwards but not quite. This adds to the dreamy unreal quality.
Repetition of particular words helps give the reader an insight into the complexities of the poet’s mind. The jolts created by gaps in the lines of 'Sleep Sonnet' are echoed in:
her nails an ocean of deep red stations trailed unreal names
jolted words away from language upholstered in grey/blue
A not dissimilar idea can be found in 'Heart':
when you gave a jolt reminding me
that the thought of perpetual
fist-sized forge at your every beat
contains the terror of its opposite
– that 'opposite' being, perhaps, stillness and death.
In 'Sleep Sonnet', the word ‘opposite’ first appears in line two
and the woman opposite was painting
The very shape of the sonnet showcases opposites. Its last lines show the tension between two poles, fear and safety, and the unexpected final words give the reader a jolt:
journeys articulate in fear alone casing the true
safe house of dream her fingernails the names oh sleep dark red
Returning to the opening poem, I was delighted to find in 'Numberless' a phrase which sums up my first reaction to 'Sleep Sonnet', ‘
jolt of surprise and acceptance