Helen Mort was born in Sheffield in 1985. She has published two pamphlets with tall-lighthouse press, the shape of every box and a pint for the ghost, a Poetry Book Society Pamphlet Choice for Spring 2010. Five-times winner of the Foyle Young Poets award, she received an Eric Gregory Award from The Society of Authors in 2007 and won the Manchester Young Writer Prize in 2008. In 2010, she became the youngest ever poet in residence at The Wordsworth Trust. Division Street, Helen’s first collection, was published by Chatto & Windus in 2013, was a PBS Recommendation and was shortlisted for the T S Eliot Prize.
After Helen’s Foyle Young Poets Award triumphs, poetry readers kept an eye on her subsequent run of pamphlet publications from tall-lighthouse and The Wordsworth Trust, and eagerly awaited her first full collection. Division Street arrived in 2013 and was quickly shortlisted for both the Costa Prize and the T S Eliot Prize, judges and readers alike connecting to her poems of conflict and resolution which thread an accessible demotic through precise form. Mort is a keen runner and climber, but when she’s not doing either, you can follow her PhD research into contemporary poetry and neuroscience at www.poetryonthebrain.blogspot.com.
You brought me here to break it off
one muggy Tuesday. A brewing storm,
the pigeons sleek with rain.
My black umbrella flexed its wings.
Damp-skinned, I made for the crush
of bars, where couples slip white pills
from tongue to tongue, light as drizzle,
your fingers through my hair,
the way you nearly sneaked
a little something in my blood.
At the clinic, they asked if I’d tattoos.
I thought about the parlour
with its jaundiced walls, the knit-knit whine
of needle dotting bone, and, for a moment,
almost wished you’d left your mark;
subtle as the star I cover with T-shirts,
the memory of rain, or your head-down walk
along Division Street, slower each week, pausing
by the pubs, their windows so dim you see
nothing but your own reflection.
At seventy, our dance mistress
could still perform
a perfect pas de chats.
Her French was wasted
in the north. We stood in line
as she waiting in the wings,
her right hand beating time
against her hip, her eyes
avoiding ours. She never
made the stage.
It took me twenty years
to understand. Alone tonight
and far from home
in shoes that pinch my toes
until they bleed, my back
held ballerina straight,
I wait as she did, too afraid
to walk into a bar
where everyone’s a stranger,
see her glide
across the city night
to meet me, tall and white
and slim. A step behind,
she clicks her fingers. Elegant,
she counts me in.
Snow wants my childhood for itself.
It wants to claim The Blacksmith’s Arms,
digest the Calow Fish Bar whole. Snow’s tongue
has found the crevices of Eastwood Park.
It licks the war memorial, weighs down the trees
and everyone I knew is sinking past their knees.
On Allpits Road, the family dog is swallowed neat.
Snow gets beneath my schoolfriends’ clothes
and touches them until they freeze, and still
it wants the long-abandoned Working Men’s Club,
hollows where bar stools scuffed the floor.
It moves to fill each empty glass behind the bar.
On Orchid Close, I stand to watch it fur the driveway
of a man who’s lived in the same bungalow for thirty years
and dreams of digging his way out.