Kim Moore is a poet, tutor, and editor. Her first pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves (smith|doorstop 2012) was shortlisted for the Michael Marks Pamphlet Award and the Lakeland Book of the Year Award.
Hi Kim. Thanks for taking the time to chat. Congratulations on the publication of your debut full-length collection The Art of Falling last year. For the uninitiated how would you describe the collection and did you approach the putting together of this book any differently than your pamphlet If We Could Speak Like Wolves or did it feel like quite a natural transition?
The pamphlet felt a lot easier to put together, probably because I was working on a much smaller scale. I had no expectations when I entered the pamphlet for the Poetry Business Pamphlet Competition – so everything good that came from it was a surprise.
I wouldn’t say it felt like a natural transition to put a full-length collection together; in fact I found it quite difficult, trying to work out the order of the poems. The central sequence in the book was really important for me, and once I’d finished that, it became easier to fit the other poems around it, although I didn’t know this at the time!
Initially, I was thinking of publishing the sequence as a pamphlet. I’d been chatting with Amy Wack at Seren about the book and the pamphlet, and she asked if she could read both, and she told me the sequence had to go into the book. This meant that other poems had to come out to make way for the sequence, but I think it was a good editing process and helped me take out some of the weaker stuff.
The central sequence in the book – ‘How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping’ – addresses a past abusive relationship. Could you tell us a bit more about how long it took for these poems to come together and did you find it quite difficult writing about such a personal subject?
I started writing poetry about eight years ago and one of the first things I wrote was a sequence called ‘The Bionic Bride’, which was set in the future in this dystopian world – a bit like a Margaret Atwood novel.
Although ‘The Bionic Bride’ poems are very different from this sequence – they are set in the future, the new sequence is set in the past – and the whole ‘content’ of the poems is different, I think their heart is the same. I was trying to explore power, and how it can be taken away, and who has it in both sequences. I think I published one of ‘The Bionic Bride’ poems before I stopped writing them and moved on to something else.
Four or five years ago, when I was studying for an MA in Creative Writing at Manchester Met, I wrote another sequence which I included in my portfolio called ‘No One Is Coming’. Looking back now (again I didn’t know it at the time) this was a very early version of ‘How I Abandoned My Body To His Keeping’. It was much more raw and had more of a narrative arc. I scrapped all of those poems eventually as well and wrote the sequence as it now stands over a period of about a year, which was quite intense and not usually the way I write.
The poems were easy to compose, in that they came out in a rush, which felt amazing at the time. But it was also painful – writing them seemed to send me back mentally to that place, that time of my life, which wasn’t particularly somewhere I wanted to visit again. At the same time it felt completely necessary, like circling around a memorial site I hadn’t visited for years. It helped me work out what happened.
The poems helped me find the shape of it, how heavy it was, and whether I could carry it. Writing them was like stirring up mud and dirt at the bottom of a well, which makes it all sound a bit like therapy, and to some extent I guess it probably was, but they also felt like more than that.
I knew I was trying to say something important about speaking out, about trauma and violence, and how this can transform both the victim and the perpetrator. I think the first two times I attempted to write the sequence, I was trying to make literal sense of it – this happened, then this happened. The finished sequence, I hope, does more than that. It looks at what happens when we witness violence, when we are directly affected by it, what happens when the self is transformed by another.
As well as being a poet, you are involved in quite a lot of tutoring work with organisations like The Poetry School and residential courses like Poetry Carousel. I’m curious what you have found to be the most conducive environments for teaching in your experience – working with students online, the relaxed surroundings of a residential course, or more formal classroom settings?
That’s a hard question, but I don’t think there is anything that can really beat being part of a residential course. Speaking from my own experience as a student, a residential course pretty much changed my life. I went away to Ty Newydd for a week on a writing course with the tutors Nigel Jenkins and Sarah Kennedy and was never the same again!
That course was the catalyst for changing the direction of my life, from working as a full-time brass teacher and playing semi-professionally, to taking my poetry more seriously and eventually working as a poet and tutor myself.
I really enjoy running residential courses as well. Although they are hard work, they are great fun, and amazing things can happen on them. I do think the type of environment you learn best in is a very personal thing though.
I was worried when I first started teaching for The Poetry School, running online courses, that it would be hard to recreate online the rapport and connection that is needed for good teaching to take place. However, in some ways, online courses create relationships that are more intense.
There are many advantages to them. If I read an interesting article or interview I can post it straight out to the group, and the participants can do the same. I love the online chats too – they are really fast-paced and students comment on each other’s poems as well. I’m sure I learn as much as the students during these sessions.
As well as tutoring, you are also Reviews Editor at The Compass online poetry magazine which is going from strength-to-strength. Can you tell us a bit more about what made you want to get involved initially and how important do you think reviewing is in bringing collections to the attention of poetry readers?
Andrew Forster and Lindsey Holland asked me if I’d like to be involved – so it was the chance to take part in a project with two friends that interested me! I also really love reading reviews, and often buy books after reading a review, and editing the reviews gives me the opportunity to put forward books that I think deserve a wider readership.
It’s fascinating seeing what the reviewer will make of a book that I’ve absolutely loved. Although I’ve written reviews before, I’ve never edited other people’s reviews, so it has been a steep learning curve, but very enjoyable. Our policy is to review the books that interest us, that we think are important, and to try and include as many publishers as we can.
I hadn’t realised previously just how much wonderful poetry there is being published. We can only fit reviews of 12 books in each issue, which means inevitably there are lots of good books that don’t get a look in.
What does the rest of the poetry year hold for you? Are there any dates in the diary you are looking forward to?
I’ll also be running another Residential Poetry Course at Grange-over-Sands with co-tutor Jennifer Copley from the 24th-28th October – a residential poetry course with a swimming pool. What more could you wish for?
Finally, could you tell us a little about the poem you’ve submitted to Poetry Spotlight?
I’ve worked as a peripatetic brass teacher for Cumbria Music Service for the last 13 years, which has involved teaching whole classes of primary school children how to play the trumpet, cornet or baritone.
I’ve been awarded full funding to do a Creative Writing PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University, starting this September, so this term has been my final term as a brass teacher. I wrote the poem in the last couple of weeks of term – after a particularly emotional day of extremes. To be fair though, it is a pretty accurate description of most of my days as a brass teacher!
I read this poem for the first time at the BBC Proms Extra Lates recently in the Elgar Room at the Royal Albert Hall, after the main Prom concert. I was reading alongside the Old Hat Jazz Band and then interviewed by Georgia Mann. One of the most nerve wracking things was reading this poem, knowing it would be recorded, because it was so new – but I’m glad I did it now. It felt like a good way to mark the end of an era.
When I walk into Year 3 each Tuesday morning
they always have their mouthpieces in their hands.
Who would like to buzz I say and we begin,
back and forward, call and response.
Let’s pretend we’re on a motorbike.
Let’s pretend we are bees.
At the end, one of the girls hugs me and says
I’m really glad you’re our music teacher,
and a boy says where did you get your shoes from Miss,
they’re well cool, and I’ll admit it, my heart soars a little
and the idea of leaving it behind in July,
of never having to pull a perfect Bb from the air
with my voice for the class to copy, no not the air,
after all these years, it feels as if that note lives
in my chest, I’ve carried it for so long, the idea
of never giving this to anyone again feels terrible.
Thank god for the afternoon session, when a girl
tells me she’s bored, and a boy leans on his trumpet
then runs around it in a circle, so the mouthpiece gets stuck,
and the whole lesson feels like a battle, the class
talking through my recap of crotchets and minims,
although it’s not the whole class, it’s never the whole class,
just a constant few, talking their lives away,
whispering I don’t know what, my mind can’t
reach back across the years to think what it was
that we used to whisper behind our desks.
Today there was a fight at lunchtime and rudeness
to the dinner ladies, who come in outraged
and wanting retribution. I’ve been asked to save
the Year 5 end-of-term performance
of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
which will involve gathering around the piano
and an explanation of the head and chest voice.
Two boys won’t stop shoving each other as another
tells me over and over again my valves are sticking,
actually he says my vowels are sticking,
his hand waving in the air, my vowels my vowels,
my vowels are sticking and I admit it, I lose my temper
and give up all at the same time, it’s like being a balloon
ready to burst and then being popped, it is a terrible thing,
this moving on, this giving in.