by Jay Ramsay
Cover: Three Fold by Helen Melland www.helenmelland.com
Seared Tuna by Emily Sutton www.emillustrates.com
Jay Ramsay discovers a true eco-poet. Hedge Fund: And Other Living Margins by Helen Moore. Shearsman, 2012. ISBN: 9781848612013
If there is a cerebral England we have been suffering, there is also an England of the heart, which has its most memorable voices – an England rooted in Nature of Chaucer, Shakespeare, Wordsworth and John Clare – and this is the tradition Helen Moore’s work is in. She draws on America too, with its poetic directness, and her ‘shouting nouns’, her capitalisations of things, recalling Emily Dickinson, perfectly emphasise the importance of things in the natural world seen not as objects, but as subjects. This is fundamental to an ecological and an eco-spiritual poetry.
Things have voices, as they do in the roots of our own Anglo-Saxon poetry: The Dream of the Rood, where the Cross speaks, lies behind Helen’s poem The Unsung Pilchard, where the fish speak on their journey to the sea: in fact every thing in this collection speaks, and her savouring of complex words also suggests an ecology of language where words, like species, can become extinct unless they are remembered.
Helen also has an impressive formal range, from tight-knit verse variations of free and formal structure (like the pantoum) to the prose poem, which she also uses to great effect as ‘mini essay’:
Marine creatures processed into food for humans, pets, poultry. Fish factories, floating towns, construct economies of scale, while trawlers scratch away insatiably to feed the industrial maw. Maw, maw, maw!
It’s the opposite of dumbing down, and of the Dulux prose of New Age self-help guides that barely use the English language in all its range and accumulated depth. It’s interesting that ecology (Joanna Macy, Thomas Berry, Thom Hartmann or David Abram, for example) tends to be so much better written.
How much love or compassion for human beings is there here? How easy is it for us to love humanity in its present state? Ironically, the tractor driver in the title poem becomes an object in his self-preoccupation. And yet without love we are doomed to another kind of collapse. But Helen is very much aware of this, and in the more personal poems that accompany her incisive diagnoses – An American Rose, Sacre Coeur (Frome) and the superb Climbing Out Of A Dog Eat Dog World – she asks the question, “What can a poet do?” Her answer is vital as well as congruent:
Now I notice when my heart has closed. Only the heart breaks patterns of fear. Together we can make a Being Love Being World.
Her own inner work and practice balance her knife-like incisions into our sleep state (Capitalism: a sonnet), freeing her from the trap of erstwhile 1980s left-wing self-righteousness and opening up a new poetic depth and maturity as well as a sustained richness and humility of utterance. Like a beautiful at-last summer day freed of endless and albeit necessary rain, I didn’t want to get to the last page.