FORWARD PRIZES: When did you start writing poetry and what drew you into it?

KIM MOORE: I’ve always written poetry and short stories since I was a child, but I think it was probably a series of moments that drew me to poetry, rather than one particular thing. I had a very kind English teacher who used to read and comment on the poems and stories I wrote in my spare time. Once I had a poem published in a school anthology and still remember the excitement of seeing my name in print. I also remember sitting at the back of my English class and finding an anthology full of poems by Tennyson, Blake and Hardy. I read the first line of ‘Tithonus’ by Tennyson and just fell completely in love – ‘The woods decay, the woods decay and fall’ – it felt as close to music as language could get.

FP: Please talk about your development as a writer of poetry. Tell us when you first felt you were a poet and how it went from there.

KM: It took me a long time to ‘feel’ like a poet – and I find that this state of being is often fleeting, for me at least. I feel like a poet when I am writing, and sometimes when I’m performing and trying new work out. But I spend most of my time feeling most un-poet like to be honest, but I also think those times are important too. They are what makes me return to poetry – because I don’t get to live there for long enough!

My development as a writer – I took myself to a poetry group for the first time in my mid twenties. I’d moved to Cumbria and didn’t know anyone so it was an act of desperation more than anything else. The group were really kind and supportive and from there I did some residentials at Ty Newydd and went to every reading and open mic I could get to within driving distance of my house and then slowly started sending poems to magazines. I did a part-time MA at Manchester Metropolitan University whilst I was still working full time as a peripatetic brass teacher. This time was very important to me. I used to get a train once a week to class as soon as I finished school and then get the last train back to Barrow. It was a very special time for me – to spend the evening talking about poetry with people who also loved poetry, to take that time out of my ordinary life felt like the most wonderful gift. More recently, I received a bursary to study for a PhD and that really was life-changing. I left music teaching to write full time in 2018, and received my doctorate in 2021.

FP: What does being shortlisted for the Forward Prizes mean for you?

KM: To be honest, I am still in absolute shock that I’m on the shortlist. I keep waiting for someone to email and say sorry there’s been a mistake. I’m very happy, and very honoured that my work has been read and considered with such careful attention by the judges.

FP: Please tell us something about the creation of your shortlisted collection, from first words to final book. Does it mark a departure or change from your earlier work? Which poems in this collection are most important to you?

KM: All the Men I Never Married came out of the creative-critical research I was doing as part of a PhD at Manchester Metropolitan University. I wanted to write poems about experiences of everyday sexism, and look at what happens when you put the space of a lyric poem around those experiences. I know that poetry can be transformative, because it’s changed my life, and I wanted to see if I could write poetry that might change or shift people’s ways of thinking about sexism and gender-based microaggressions. What I didn’t expect is that the writing of the book changed me – my perceptions, my understanding of sexism and its impact on me.

In terms of departure from previous work, I was at a reading recently where the poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin talked about rejecting the patriarchal writing model of forward progress and instead embracing a circling around or deeper excavation of themes (I hope I’m paraphrasing her correctly!). I was really struck by this idea – and I think there’s definitely something of that in this book – my first collection contained a sequence of poems examining domestic violence, and in some sense the poems in my second collection seek to hold a light up to the social and political landscape that create the conditions that allow domestic violence to happen.

I think all of the poems in this book feel hugely important to me because they all, pretty much without exception contain a discovery of some kind, something that I didn’t know that I knew. But if I had to pick one, perhaps the last poem (No 48) because this poem really gave me a new way of thinking about permission, being silenced and speaking out.

FP: Which poets do you admire most and what do you value in their work?

KM: When I was writing All the Men I Never Married I read a lot of Maggie Nelson and Sara Ahmed so it’s probably just as informed by lyric essays and academic texts than it is by poetry. But poets that I love are Moniza Alvi for her inventiveness in every collection, Liz Berry for the way she writes about motherhood and female desire, Helen Mort for the way she writes about the body and manages to use historical figures to illuminate contemporary life, Vahni Anthony Ezekiel Capildeo for the way they are so creative in their approach to their writing practice. I love Sharon Olds, Carolyn Forche, a whole host of American writers would be on my Desert Islands poem list, if there ever was such a thing. I’ve also just been to a reading with Mark Waldron – I love how his work treads so close to the wire of outrageousness. Clare Shaw for her use of repetition, Fiona Benson for pretty much everything that she writes – the list really could go on and on but I will stop there.

FP: What is next for you as a poet?

KM: I’m currently working on a hybrid book of essays which draws from my PhD research around sexism and poetry. This will be a choose-your-own-adventure text where readers will decide what they want to read next from a mix of lyric essays and poetry. The essays are wide-ranging but broadly concern themselves with sexism and micro-aggressions and performance as a female poet.

In terms of poetry, I’m practicing giving myself permission to write nothing but motherhood poems, after being told by three different male poets not to write about it. I’m not sure if they’ll make it into a collection, but I’m enjoying writing them.

FP: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in poetry today?

KM: Enjoy starting out. You’ll never be starting out again! And read lots of poetry – not just collections, but anthologies and journals if you can. Read much more than you write – reading solves most problems.