Kim Moore’s What the Trumpet Taught Me is an exciting, innovative experiment with the memoir form. It uses precise vignettes of a girl and woman’s experiences with music (specifically, learning to play a cornet and trumpet over the years). These snapshots are short pieces of prose or prose-poetry – often barely longer than a page – which link chronologically to explore themes of family, education, class, gender, sexism, creativity, community, work, desire, bereavement, performance, power and self-empowerment. One of the book's joys is the skilful way that Moore explores these major issues through the prisms of a trumpet and one woman’s life and reflections.
Given her expertise as a poet, Moore consistently plays a poet’s notes: observation and imagery, rhythm and atmosphere. The writing is absorbing throughout, virtually always in the present tense, which helps to retain its visceral immediacy. I learned too about the history of the cornet and trumpet, technical terms like single tonguing and triple tonguing, the first, second and third valve slide. It’s packed with stunning, painful insights. Here’s one: ‘I think back to all the men I’ve been taught by and my relief when they only do their job, my gratitude.’
Just over halfway through the book there’s a chilling depiction of an abusive relationship. The narrative trembles from its after-effects, and the reader wants the narrator to reclaim herself, feels relieved when she does so. Her trumpet remains a positive presence, companion and instrument of ultimate triumph. What the Trumpet Taught Me gives us music as stirring as any brass or soul band. It’s an engrossing and moving achievement.
Robert Hamberger’s fourth poetry collection Blue Wallpaper (Waterloo Press) was shortlisted for the 2020 Polari prize. His prose memoir with poems A Length of Road: Finding Myself in the Footsteps of John Clare was published by John Murray in 2021.