Monday, December 29, 2014

Things I'm Glad I Read in 2014 #3

I'm at the disadvantage of writing this post about Helen Mort's Division Street without the book in front of me. Not only is it one of the collections I have returned to most often in 2014, but the one I have most often leant to others. That is the real mark of quality: a book you pass on to others saying 'you must read this!' So, currently my copy is being enjoyed elsewhere.
Technically, I think Mort's book came out at the end of 2013, but I'm going to sneak it into 2014 on account of it having been up for (and having won) The Aldeburgh first collection prize this year. I remember buying it on a trip I made to London for reasons entirely unrelated to poetry. I snuck into the Waterstones near UCL one Saturday morning with a long day of conference ahead of me, bought this book and a cup of tea, then nearly didn't make the start of the conference.
Mort is a writer who is accessible in the very best sense of the word: You don't need to be 'into' poetry to get her, but her work is quietly sophisticated, full of wry humour, and pulls you along on an undertow of emotion which is stripped of all sentimentality. In some senses, she is an inheritor of Tony Harrison, working through her Northern heritage from the vantage point of  a metropolitan life, but Mort's take on this theme (especially in her poems about the Miners' Strike) is not guilt-ridden like Harrison's, perhaps for generational reasons. The ambiguous title of the volume hints at social divisions, but is best understood, I think, in universal terms. Mort's poems are often about growing up, breaking away, becoming an individual who emerges from a particular context, but who must gain some distance from that context. That process of division is cause for both celebration and mourning, and the best of these poems hold those contradictions finely in balance.

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