As Thom Gunn put it in ‘On the Move’, ‘One is always nearer by not keeping still’. The ostensible subject matter of Helen Mort’s No Map Could Show Them, climbing and running, also shows that the concomitant is ‘reaching no absolute, in which to rest’. Her collection is an extended metaphor for testing, reaching for the unattainable and failing – or finding a finger-hold where ‘seems’ becomes ‘is’, water becomes land, rock becomes air. The figures in these unforgiving landscapes are usually women, from Jemima Morrell and her 1863 Alpine tour to Alison Hargreaves, who died on K2 in 1995. They play handy-dandy with rock, snow and ice, so that each becomes the other. ‘Mountain’ makes the identification explicit, with references to the subject’s ‘skin-coloured sandstone/wedged where your breasts should be’. Its ‘words are rockfall’, its ‘eyes collect new rain’. In ‘How to Dress’ there is a mordant disrobing of Victorian clothing: a woman is told she must ‘put on the mountain’s suit’ and find ‘your mouth becoming fissured/and your ankles malachite’.
Tough cookies are welcomed, including Beryl the Peril, transposed from The Topper into Mort’s own grandmother in a poem that skids between the appallingly comic and the harshly scary. ‘Big Lil’ is a celebration of Lillian Bilocca, a gargantuan Hull fishwife who fought against the odds for seamen’s safety after