The Art of Falling, by a Cumbrian poet and former trumpet teacher, joins illustrious former winners including Seamus Heaney and JM Coetzee
A debut poetry collection that tackles the author’s own experiences of domestic violence, in poems that “jolt the heart”, has won the Geoffrey Faber memorial prize.
Cumbrian poet Kim Moore’s The Art of Falling covers everything from her experiences as a trumpet teacher to her father’s profession as a scaffolder, as well as the suffragettes and a tattoo inspired by Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own. In My People, she writes of how some “swear without knowing they are swearing … scaffolders and plasterers and shoemakers and carers, the type of carers paid pence per minute to visit an old lady’s house”.
The collection’s central sequence, however, How I Abandoned My Body to His Keeping, tells of a woman in a violent relationship and, said Moore, draws from personal experience.
“The first time I wrote them they came out really raw, like therapy. But I rewrote them again and again. I started to look at other poets who write about violence. I read Ovid’s Metamorphoses, and that’s when it all came together,” she said. “It’s not a narrative sequence, saying this happened and that happened, so it doesn’t feel revealing in that way – I’m not telling the story of it. It’s more metaphors for violence … The poems feel almost like little shields I can hold in front of me at a reading.”
The judges, poets Gillian Clarke and Katharine Towers, and the New Statesman’s Tom Gatti, said that Moore’s poems “accrue force and vigour as they speak to each other across the pages, delivering a thrilling encounter with language at its most irresistible and essential”.
They added: “There is admirable ambition and a generosity that takes in the whole of the world, affirming it all to be worthy of poetry’s invigorating attention. Rarer still, perhaps, is Moore’s command of a poem’s closing moments – she knows when to leave quietly and when to jolt the heart. Few write as well as Moore of the limitations and transformations of the body – its animal nature that speaks to the crow or wolf; its ability to internalise the landscape (to ‘grow a sloping woodland in your heart’); its fragility and ability to attract and absorb pain, to be ‘translated by violence’.”
Moore, who was born in 1981 and worked as a trumpet teacher for 13 years before focusing on poetry, is currently writing a new collection, looking at everyday experiences of sexism. “I started trying to write about the small, annoying things that women just put up with, to see what happened if I turned them into poems, put space around them. And I found that actually, they looked really bad,” she said. “These poems are a bit more angry, a bit darker, than in my first collection, which had a lot of lighter pieces.”
The Geoffrey Faber prize, which is worth £1,500, is given in alternate years to a volume of verse and a volume of prose fiction “of the greatest literary merit”. It has been won in the past by Seamus Heaney, Tony Harrison, JM Coetzee and Eimear McBride.