All the Men I Never Married by Kim Moore
Reviewed by Olivia Dennison
In just forty-eight short poems, Kim Moore highlights the prevalence of sexual assault
experienced by women of all ages. Her eagerly anticipated second collection All the Men I
Never Married takes us on a journey from childhood innocence and playful memories right
through to maturity and understanding the corruption of the adult world. These poems are
crafted with pain and anger in their veins, and from patronising taxi drivers to coercive
dates we see a lifespan of experiencing the inferiority and vulnerability that can come with
living inside a woman’s body. Winning the 2022 Forward Prize for best collection, Moore’s
poetry puts marginalised female voices at the centre of the discussion around sexual assault
in a world where one in four women have been raped or sexually assaulted as an adult
(rapecrisis.org.uk). These poems encompass emotions of love, guilt, shame, and
vulnerability as well as the conflicting nature of experiencing desire. The collection opens
with the narrator addressing the assembly of poems as some form of testimony to the men
who have wronged her in order for her to have the ability to let them go: ‘this is the naming
of trees / this is a series of flames / this is watching you all disappear’. We see that what we
are about to experience as readers is a painful reminiscing of encounters with men and a
coming to terms with events and emotions previously suppressed. It is the world’s most
difficult detox. The narrator is finally deciding to sit down with her emotions and define
what happened to her.
Heartbreakingly, her poetry calls attention to the colossal issue of victim blaming.
Victims of sexual assault are forced to repeatedly question their own choices and actions
leading up to an attack, experiencing a perpetual mental war of ‘maybe I shouldn’t have
reacted to their words…’, ‘maybe I shouldn’t have been walking alone…’ and ‘perhaps if I’d
have worn something else…’. This self-depreciating behaviour is instilled in women from
such a young age and is encouraged by offenders and the institutions that have failed to
hold them accountable. These poems highlight the aggressive nature of sexual abuse
offenders but also their complex thought processes. They are not a separate species that we
can identify in society and avoid but live among us and are often the people we know; our
friends, our families, and members of authority that we trust to keep us safe. Poem forty-
two reflects the mental torment experienced by victims after assault: ‘Is it ___ if your
husband/boyfriend/friend did it, is it ___ if you didn’t say no/yes… if you stayed with him
after, is it ___ if you pretend nothing has happened…’. Moore’s work creates awareness of
the permanent scars that sexual assault leaves and how impossible it can be to apprehend
for the rest of the victim’s life.
Moore titles her poems not by name but by number, again bringing attention to the
myriad of dangerous situations women often find themselves in while living their day-to-day
lives. This collection has just one narrator (inferred from the title) and she alone has forty-
eight sickening stories to tell. Moore is genius at showing the microcosms of life where
harassment unexpectedly occurs: two children playing in the woods witnessing a man
expose himself to them, schoolboys lifting the skirts and touching the bra-straps of young
schoolgirls, a man grazing an adolescent girl’s thigh who sits in front of him on the log flume.
Attacks occur in the spaces we least expect.
Each of these poems has a form that symbolises a unique experience of assault.
Poem six, with no stanza break and each line swiftly punctuated, reads like a witness
testimony, a recollection of the fast-paced events that took place. Poem four has a loose
form that sways across the page symbolising the intoxicated state of the narrator as events
spiral out of her control. Moore’s words are frightening but, as described by 2020 Forward
Prize winner Malika Booker, are ‘Urgent and necessary and vital’.
As untrue as it should be, there is a poem in here that every woman will understand
and hold close to her heart. It is for this reason that Fiona Benson is unequivocally correct
when she deems the collection ‘A revolutionary and subversive requisition of the female
gaze, and it will be canonical’.