Featured in The Guardian, Helen Mort's poem: An Easy Day for a Lady
“The Grepon has disappeared. Of course, there are still
some rocks standing there, but as a climb no longer
exists. Now that it has been done by two women alone,
no self-respecting man can undertake it.”
– ETIENNE BRUHL, 1929
When we climb alone
en cordée feminine,
we are magicians of the Alps –
we make the routes we follow
to see the swooping absence
of the face, the undone glaciers,
crevasses closing in on themselves
like flowers at night.
We’re reeling in the sky.
The forest curls into a fist.
The lake is no more permanent
than frost. Where you made ways,
we will unmake:
give back the silence
at the dawn of things.
Beneath your feet,
retracts its hand.
Helen Mort’s new poetry collection, No Map Could Show Them (Chatto), is a witty and innovative exploration of women and mountaineering that is seriously playful with history in the assured voice of a modern young woman who also has other lives and other interests (love poems, a missed train, heart surgery, running, the starling murmuration above Middleton Moor, the sauna worker who knows ‘I work in mental health’). But for a collection that focuses upon women mountaineers who were often written out of history this collection not only gives them presence, it plays with absences, elusiveness and hard-to-pin-down vanishing points. So these are not researched documentary poems – they always have an amusing, imaginative twist of mystery about them, as in the idea that Alison Hargreaves’ signature was in solo climbs which, ‘as you moved / the sequences spelled out/ your name [….] gone / when you looked back’. This poem is titled ‘Above Cromford’ and is poignantly an imagined memory ‘inside a tent high on K2’. The formidable Fanny Workman Bullock jumps a crevasse in the Karakorum and ‘Just for a breath I flew, / afraid you could not anchor me, / the earth not bring me back’. These remarkable women are so empowered that they appear to escape all restraints: ‘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.’ Of course, there is a price to pay for being written into history, as for the first Scandinavian woman to summit Everest, for example: ‘You’ll never be / what you are now, a silence, framed / by sun. You are what’s said. / You’ll never be what’s done.’ These poems manage magically to somehow both say the doing and evoke the ‘silence framed by sun’.