When People Die by Thomas Moore
Review by Michael Browne
Exciting indie imprint Kiddiepunk have long been a purveyor of fringe / esoteric media and literature. Home to Dennis Cooper’s .gif novels, collage-like short films, and a bizarre reverb-drenched remix of Hanson’s debut album, Kiddiepunk’s multi-modal output is as hard to grasp as it is transgressive. The imprint’s latest release, a poetry collection titled When People Die by UK-based poet Thomas Moore, sees Moore retreading all the familiar melancholic beats of his previous works, while flirting with a disquieting brevity.
When People Die is a collection of confessional and fractured poems that spans three formal sections. Over these sections we are witness to more of the writer’s Genet-like fascination with the devious and emotionally void underbelly of human sexuality. In Moore’s world, sexual depravity reigns above all else, and his speaker is often left emotionally maimed or disoriented by his experiences. These stark and austere poems see the speaker blurring the lines of comprehension between love, lust, sex, and violence, and often all within the space of a line. Unlike similar writers that seem to take a certain kind of masochistic pleasure in writing from the gutter, one gets the sense that Moore truly writes from a place of sincere pain, emotional distress, and a graphically rendered despair.
Many of Moore’s poems find him striving to understand and compartmentalize his nebulous feelings of love, lust, and sexuality. The people that inhabit Moore’s world are often strung out and suicide prone, others float in and out, ambiguous and shadowy—barely existing on the page.
Your suicide keeps on getting postponed
Your friends say that it’s because you’re lazy
They want to talk about entitlement
Your friends are talking like you are not there
The sunglasses at night complement that
The inability to find tactile, lasting connections that go beyond a landscape of sadistic sexual rendezvous is something “When People Die”—and much of Moore’s work—seems to be preoccupied with. Lovers nihilistically connect over cruising apps and watch their connection ultimately drift, friends casually contemplate suicide, and regrets run deep.
The sound of the skateboarders
Outside the Palais de Tokyo
Sets my mind on a certain track
It’s these memories of teenage
Lives that I pretended were mine
While I lived one that was much less
The second section of the collection is devoted to what Moore has called his “Instagram Haikus.” These pieces work exceptionally hard and do well to convey the bleak nature of the collection—and because of their concision—offer up a heavy dose of claustrophobia. What Moore has done is craft eerily condensed and almost crystallized versions of the despair in the longer form poems, cutting them down to their void-like essence, creating a series of little deaths—Les petites morts.
The walls are pulsing
Haunting desires of strangers
Bodies start to merge
Desperate for rope
I’m swinging from the ceiling
Death is hypnotic
Many of the Instagram Haikus appear like notes left behind on a lover’s nightstand, or cryptic DM’s sent in the middle of the night. All tinged with measured doses of ennui, regret, fleeting hope, and captured in a style that is more than apt for the 21st century.
The last section features the longest piece within the collection, and contains arguably the most compelling language and imagery. The narrator is woken from a dream to a phone call from an ex-lover or friend—the relationships between people are so vague and hallucinatory within Moore’s poetry that it’s hard to tell—and is recounted a nightmare featuring a dead young boy. What follows is a hazy chronicling of the emotional detritus of their relationship, and coupled with disturbing images of the boy that could easily be from a dream or reality.
…And my mouth
For a second looks
Like the fucked up
Mutilated kid’s corpse
And I’m screaming
To put down this book
To stop reading these words…
Moore’s use of the dead boy’s mutilated body to describe the emotional turmoil of his relationship with his distressed friend works hauntingly well enough to avoid being heavy-handed or cliche. This falls in line perfectly with what Moore does so well throughout When People Die, which is his ability to describe such acute horror and apply it with such casual nihilistic flair to the unspoken emotions of his characters, rendering them mute and ineffective.
When People Die returns us to the literary transgressions of Genet, de Sade, Cooper, et al, but with a heightened sense of 21st century terror and ennui. Sexual nihilism and violence have been condensed into the spaces allotted for an Instagram caption, but the pain and emotional toll still loom large as ever. Moore has created another haunting collection, where suicide is always a viable option, sex is hell, and the void is perpetually gaping wide.
When People Die is available now from Kiddiepunk.