tall-lighthouse, 2007 - £3.00
Helen Mort is a name you’re likely to hear a lot in the years to come, because this slickly-produced chapbook offers ample evidence, even at this early age, of a mature talent.
The poet’s concerns here are generally centered on romantic relationships, but there’s nothing hackneyed about what results. She observes and analyses with a clear, even photographic eye, something that the poems themselves show an awareness of, with lines such as:
Birds on the horizon
snap their wings like shutters
and all of it is gone
in the flicker of a phrase.
Elsewhere, (for example, in ‘Risk Assessment) she calls on sharp, subtle imagery and memorable lines: “the halfway mark of your neck/ bruised with something like luck” to keep the reader interested and often delighted.
She does place and background well too. Poems such as ‘The Word for Snow’ and ‘North/South’ work off each other, and anchor the rest of the collection in a context that’s both recognizable to the reader and yet not quite grasped.
It’s only when she starts trying a bit too hard—for example on a poem like ‘The day the cat got his tongue’ —that she hits the odd bum note. I much prefer it when she quietly subverts your expectations. In ‘Like Faith’, for instance, she undermines her own metaphor in one stanza, only to re-establish it on much firmer ground in the next.
Other highlights included ‘I Remember You As You Were’, after a poem by Pablo Neruda. I don’t know the original, but her own poem has an aching tenderness that confirms the cumulative impression of what’s gone before—and the restraint and control shouldn’t be mistaken for a lack of warmth or emotion. It left me wanting more. Fortunately, I suspect there may be plenty to follow from this five-time winner of the Foyle Young Poets competition and more recently recipient of a well-deserved Gregory Award. Watch this space.