This is poetry you can touch, feel, smell, taste and drown in. Mort’s passion and his sensual feel for language and form is evident in every line he writes. His gift for portraying everyday things in extraordinary ways sends the mind spinning to catch up. His way of seeing the world, of feeling his experiences is sometimes almost shocking in its newness.
Cusp is Graham Mort’s first collection since his acclaimed volume Visibility was published in 2007. It comes just a year after Touch, his debut in short story writing which won the Edge Hill Prize for short fiction. Its success should be no surprise to those who know that Mort is Professor of Creative Writing and Transcultural Studies at Lancaster University. The collection reflects on his experiences in Africa as well as at home. As in all his work there is a strong sense of place in these poems and not just the ones bearing the titles of the cities or regions they evoke. In ‘Manchester’ his personification of the city conjures up pictures of an earlier time like grainy old film footage one would rather not be watching. ‘Lake Mburo’ describes a relaxing camping trip during which the campers soak up the beauty of nature and its creatures like a reviving drink they have been longing for. In ‘White Hill’ the poet recalls walks taken on cold winter mornings and how those memories inspire creativity.
…. Just now, when I
looked up from where a poem is
uncoiling, line into line, not trusting
itself to be left alone with the helix
of its language making nothing
For me the most moving poem is ‘A Madhouse in Liguria (1955)’. Mort’s sensitivity in describing the patients in their various states of illness, the stark contrast of the white clinical surroundings and the atmosphere of calm serenity with which the nuns look after their charges is breathtaking, a painting in words.
Complementing the poems depicting bygone ages ‘Easter Messaging’ brings us right up to date. In it the poet describes being parted from his wife and how they keep in touch in the age of mobile phones and computers.
You text me on Whernside hill ….
…. I mail you
the brief dusk of Abuja ….
I’ll send you this as well, pushing words at
pixel-glittering space, remembering
the moon again ….
The collection’s title poem tells of a December when it was too cold even to sleep and one became aware of one’s own mortality. ‘Electricity’, the last and longest poem in this elegant slender volume was commissioned for the 2001 Scientific writing project at the Belmont Arts Centre in Shrewsbury. It’s said the Eskimos have twenty seven words for snow. Well, Graham Mort doesn’t do too badly either in the number of terms he finds for how electricity behaves. I certainly appreciate the verbal skills he employs here, but personally I find this the least appealing of the three dozen poems making up the collection.
Any Cop?: Graham Mort’s most recent volume of poems is a splendid addition to an already impressive portfolio of published work and would admirably grace the shelves of any poetry lover.