No Map Could Show Them – Helen Mort

Learning To Read #7


I enjoyed “Division Street”, with the Sheffield references, with the knowing glances back at the 1980’s and with the sense that the poems were forged from the base metal of working class northern England. This was something that I could relate to. I came to “No Map”, in contrast, with a slight sense of confusion. This was a book that seemed to be about women mountain climbers, based on diary entries, on experiences gained from reliving the adventures of pioneering female climbers, and on the physical experience on mountains themselves. Initially, this threw me – how did it connect with my life, my experiences, my interests? The back page spiel talks about how these poems are explorations of our bodies, and on the heights we scale with our lives, but when it comes down to it, a poem such as “How to Dress” for example, is much more about walking up hillsides in practical clothes, or nothing at all, or the image of dressing like a mountain, than it is about social norms and expectations of how women in business for example. “Take off the clothes they want / to keep you in. The shadow of the hill / undresses you. The sky / will be your broad-brimmed hat.” I couldn’t quite grasp which theme this poem wanted to work towards.

I’m not giving this as a complaint, by the way, and there are several poems in here that bring the imagery of mountains more clearly into other aspects of daily life and everyday experience. “Mountain” at the start of the book for example, puts the rock into the boardroom, as a reflection on the choices we make sometimes to be successful, and the insecurities and uncertainties that come with this. “You are very successful / But you have rocks in your chest, / skin coloured sandstone / wedged where your breasts should be.” Along the way, though, you also get “Rachel in Attercliffe” a sonnet about a prostitute and her clients on a particular Boxing Day. You get “Beryl the Peril” with it’s post modern Beano feminism, and “Big Lil” – an insight into the life of Lillian Bilocca and her campaign for improved safety in the Hull fishing industry of the late 60’s. Strong pieces about strong iconic women.

There are some good pieces in here, but I found the journey a little disjointed overall. It felt that like it was two or three pamphlets, each with a strong theme, put together as one but in no particular order. I’d have skipped the mountain adventures, and stuck with the poems about feminism and bodies. That’s just my take on it, though, which I guess is proof that I don’t just blog about the stuff that I love 🙂

Here’s another review btw, which I think balances my uncertainties.

The author has a website, which is here.



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