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The Lovely Disciplines

Martyn Crucefix
ISBN-13: 
9781781723890
Publication Date: 
Monday, July 31, 2017
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The Lovely Disciplines is a fascinating grove of acutely astute observations, where life and its slant significances flit, half-hidden, among the leaves. – Mario Petrucci

‘Careful and patient poetry’ – Tears in the Fence

 

The Lovely Disciplines is the new poetry collection by renowned author Martyn Crucefix. Displaying his characteristic flair, craft and intelligence, Crucefix’s poems often begin with the visible, the tangible, the ordinary, yet through each act of attentiveness and the delicate fluidity of the language they re-discover the extraordinary in the everyday.

In the first section, ‘Scree we Ride’, there are a number of these epiphanies, sometimes glowing as if with newly-minted significance, though as often the effect achieved can be unsettling, a revision of our usual relations with the world. There is a subtly erotic encounter with an optician; an Emersonian meditation on a scrawled note in a used book; the memory of a dear friend strangely manifested in the handle of a well-used knife. We see Crucefix here as the poet of the revelatory moment.

Part 2, ‘The Lovely Disciplines’ is not just the centre but the emotional heart of this new collection. It features a number of tender poems that recollect moments with ageing parents: a father, losing his memory, gets lost driving a familiar route, with such loss prefiguring wider and deeper losses to come; a childhood home is suddenly shorn of its reassuring familiarity, seemingly inhabited by ghosts and become so unstable as to be transformed into ‘The House of your Parents as a Waterfall’. As bricks and mortar come into question so, as in the poem ‘Skype’, relationships suffer and pixilate into fragments of the protagonist’s personal history as much as a historical past. Conversations with once-sharp parents swerve dizzyingly from the tiniest domestic detail to death and the after-life.

In the final third of this book, ‘Boy Racer’, poems range more widely across contemporary events but always with Crucefix’s characteristic sense of philosophical enquiry, curiosity and linguistic inventiveness. There are also a number of subtle, beautifully original love poems. In truth, ‘The Lovely Disciplines’ turn out to be the humanly necessary ones of attention, devotion, dedication, ultimately of love. With this highly accomplished mid-career book, Martyn Crucefix confirms his reputation as one of the most significant poets of his generation.

 

 

REVIEWS

Review by D.A. Prince, London Grip

Friday, December 8, 2017

Martyn Crucefix’s pamphlets and collections have been appearing regularly since 1990 along with such widely-praised translations as Rilke’s Duino Elegies. He is also, as the list of Acknowledgements in this collection shows, a supporter of a range of poetry magazines (including London Grip) both in print and online. It’s a list that shows commitment to the contemporary magazine scene and the editors, something I find cheering.

Crucefix has a naturally quiet poetic tone. If your taste leans to rap, performance or the loudly experimental, this collection is not for you. But if you are drawn to poems of detailed observation where language reflects shifting experience and subtle emotional changes then you will find this a rewarding collection. The experiments within The Lovely Disciplines are with language and how it can mirror relationships in the contemporary world, how it can constantly re-new itself. It asks a lot from the reader but repays both the time and the effort.

Let’s start with the final poem – not because readers start reading a collection from the back but because ‘Street View’ draws together many of the themes that emerge from the preceding poems. This collection is not ‘about’ a set of defined themes; that would be too strong a labelling of the lightness of Crucefix’s delicate approach and exploration of each individual’s place in the twenty-first century world, and our relationship with it and each other. These ideas come together in the concluding poem, whose title ‘Street View’ is then followed by this subtitle: http://maps.google.co.uk/maps?hl=en&q=street+view+brent+street&bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.r_qf.&bpcl=3718945&biw=996&bih=921&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wl

Why is that subtitle relevant? Because it’s the code, the web URL, for where the poet is captured by the street view camera touring his area, taking screen shots of reality.

Just a few clicks and there I am
real and distant as I was on Brent Street
dawdling along
swinging my left arm

So words (the poem) and code (the precise street location) come together in the poet (the person) who, as he clicks on the screen, is simultaneously ‘real and distant’. Yet that’s not where he is, because where he is, now, is

where I sit at this untidy desk
troubling these keys to describe
the triumvirate

of self and other and time

– so that where he was ‘… pixilated for my privacy’s sake’ is somehow unreal, a place where there is no comparison with the tangible world of ‘… maps or the topographical charms // and chants of the weather forecast’. It’s an in-between place, neither one thing or the other, but simultaneously – in that nervously accurate description of our relationship with the computer – ‘troubling’. Deeper into the poem he’s watching the real-time breakfast traffic news ‘in which I imagine one foggy morning / when I glimpse myself // driving to where I’ve yet to be’. This is the poet’s self suspended, both there and not there. The final lines pull all the times and places into one reality – ‘since it’s ourselves we like to cheer / for nothing or no more than just being here’ – that is as close to a positive assertion as Crucefix can get. The full rhyme supports the statement, although ‘just being here’ is a far more complex state than those words, taken out of context, suggest. But it’s the end of a long, discursive exploration of the individual’s place in time, which is why the final poem is a good way to enter this collection.

Although the collection is divided into three clearly defined sections, each with its own heading – “Scree We Ride”, “The Lovely Disciplines”, “Boy-racer” – it reads as one continuous and carefully-balanced collection, with the sections connecting easily. The central section, however, is the emotional heart of thebook where family relationships across the generations are considered within the more impersonal world of screens and Skype. For older users, the technical aspects of Skype can present problems – ‘though sometimes the laptop screen / is angled so I catch only the crowns/ of grey heads …’ – even when they have grasped the reality of connection.

even if the connection holds
but if it wavers faces split to stained glass
or cubist fragments or fairground mirrors
still talking blithely asking me still
if I can see these crocuses
the lawn in sunshine their bird table
where sparrows in pairs come for food and drink

While this is a description of the reality of the son-to-parents conversation, catching up on the shared minutiae of daily life, the effects of a weak connection are the same as the poet’s pixilated face in ‘Street View’ and are an effectively contemporary metaphor for the difficulties of connection. In ‘The house of your parents as a waterfall’ Crucefix explores the difficulties of a return visit to a childhood home – ‘where you find the way things are now // cannot be the way that things were then’. This leads on to the title poem in which ‘Ginny’s son and Ginny’s daughter-in-law’ are visitors in a care home/hospital, helpless in the face of reality

O no more those lovely disciplines

we reassure ourselves it’s human to pursue
and no more those sweet acts of will

we briefly treasure or take for granted
consoling ourselves that we will be spared

the horror of long blue rooms like these
the slack and supine and all this twaddle

of decay …

To root this in our everyday negotiation between hope and reality, Crucefix balances the abstract with the visible, tactile detail of everyday routine. It’s what he calls the ‘ordinary real’ (in ‘Listening to Tippett twice’) and where the quiet strength of these poems lies. In ‘La Gioconda gone’ he examines the effect of empty space, again both as reality and as metaphor, in Brian Eccleshall’s oil painting of the space left after the theft of the Mona Lisa in 1911. In ‘The boy from Wapakoneta’ he explores the difference between ‘man’ and ‘a man’ in Neil Armstrong’s words on the moon landing; that missing article is another instance of absence and the debate about what absence means. In ‘House sold’ he opens with an apparently unremarkable visit to the garden of a former home (his mother-in-law’s) and a damp exercise in digging up an unnamed object ‘the size of a sweet jar’ and wrapping it in a black bin liner. Only in the last two stanzas is the punctured object revealed to be a jar of ashes – ‘now she’s a little mixed / with its beloved soil and each step confirms // possession is temporary’. Every detail is right: the ‘sodden slippery grass’, and ‘…the earth / complicated by roots …’; it’s secretive, a private act of family connection that goes beyond death.

Crucefix writes in a consistent style without formal punctuation, a technique that can allow the shifting language to flow into the unexpected. Occasionally I was forced to stop and re-read, and choose between two valid readings, but these were rare, and an attentive ear will find a great of pleasure in the fluid and delicate balance of his poems. The Lovely Disciplines is a unified collection which reveals more with each reading – and you don’t have to start with the final poem.

Review by Ian Brinton, Tears in the Fence

Sunday, August 20, 2017

There is a tone of quiet humanity in these poems and that comes as no surprise as I look back on the versions of Laozi’s Daodejing that Martyn Crucefix published last year with Enitharmon Press (Tears blog 4/12/16). There is a seriousness in the poetry, an awareness of the passing of time, which does not resolve itself into an easily achieved sense of regret. There is no bitter twist that allows a reader to sport a wry smile to accompany his awareness of the value of lived experience. I make no apology for repeating some lines from Peter Robinson’s interview with Jane Davies (Talk about Poetry, Shearsman Books, 2007) that I used in my book Contemporary Poetry: Poetry and Poets since 1990 (C.U.P. 2009). Robinson was talking about poems which address lived experience in recognisable forms of human expression and in the interview he expressed some bafflement about the contemporary poetry scene. He was puzzled by the way by the way jokes are given such importance and recounted how the Italian poet Franco Fortini had approached him at a poetry festival in Cambridge in the 1980s to ask “why do all the English poems end with a little laugh?” It seems almost as if an ironic tone is adopted to protect the poet from being seen as nakedly serious and wanting to refer to genuinely felt emotions. In contrast, the quiet tone of Crucefix’s poems reinforces Robinson’s assertion that poetry is a response to other lives and the otherness of those lives.
In ‘House sold’ the poet records those moments when he unearthed the plastic urn containing his mother-in-law’s ashes which had been buried in the garden. Now that the house has been sold, that house “your mother dressed // and warmed all those years”, the urn will accompany the family on the next move:

“now she’s a little mixed
with its beloved soil and each step confirms

possession is temporary
even a place of rest
you lean against the car as if out of breath”

The word “mixed” could be an introduction to a tone of ironic laughter: ash and soil are combined as a result of the plastic jar (“the size of a sweet jar”) being punctured by the fork used to uncover it. But any hint of embarrassment is swiftly discarded with the tread of “each step confirms” and the overwhelming simple seriousness of the statement “possession is temporary” lifts the commonplace to the universal. Thomas Hardy’s squabbling mothers in the ‘Satire of Circumstance’ poem ‘In the Cemetery’ have no place here. Hardy’s women fall out with each other concerning whose flowers are placed over whose dead children whilst the sexton comments that the babies were laid in the graves at different times “like sprats in a tin”. In fact the women are crying over what is no longer there since “we moved the lot some nights ago / And packed them away in the general foss / With hundreds more”:

“But their folks don’t know,
And as well cry over a new-laid drain
As anything else, to ease your pain!”

There are other English voices behind this careful and patient poetry and it is impossible to ignore the presence of Larkin. The title poem focuses on the ward in a home which appears to be either a resting place for those with dementia or a hospice for those about to die. If I have any doubts about tone here it rests with the Larkinesque adoption of resignation which comes a little too easily; a resignation accompanied by a seemingly all-knowing distance.

“…no brighter hope

any more for Linda where she’s settled still
in her pink dressing-gown beside her bed

neat as a serviette her eyes fixed on a man
from her V of hands while he stares at her

from his V of hands at the woman he moved
coterminous with for years who now prefers

distance and darkness and being dumb –”

My doubts are raised by the word “prefers” with its sense of choice and commitment; it takes away from the sadness of the inevitable and becomes a matter of the poet’s awareness of the choices he assumes the woman to have made. However, there is another voice behind these crafted poems and it is that of Donald Davie. It seems no accident that Crucefix has translated Pasternak’s poem ‘In Hospital’ and his awareness of the importance of rhyme and music in the Russian poet’s work is movingly transcribed with subtlety and respect:

“As if window-shopping
crowds block the way
stretcher swung aboard
paramedics in place

street shadows carved
by the ambulance’s beam
city thunders past
police and pavements dancing

as doors swing on faces
gawping the nurse’s grip
on the saline bottle
loosening as she tips

to and fro – snowfall
filling gutters quickly
paperwork in triplicate
the roar of A and E”

In a radio talk he gave for the BBC’s Third Programme in 1962 Davie spoke about the music of poetry and quoted from Pasternak’s novel Dr. Zhivago:

“At such moments the correlation of the forces controlling the artist is, as it were, stood on its head. The ascendancy is no longer with the artist or the state of mind which he is trying to express, but with language, his instrument of expression. Language, the home and dwelling of beauty and meaning, itself begins to think and speak for man and turns wholly into music, not in the sense of outward, audible sounds, but by virtue of the power and momentum of its inward flow.”

Davie was a serious translator of Pasternak’s poetry and one of his finest poems, ‘A Winter Landscape Near Ely’ asks the sort of question that interested the Russian poet:

“What stirs us when a curtain
Of ice-hail dashes the window?”

Davie’s answer is in the sort of tone which I find in The Lovely Disciplines:

“It is the wasteness of space
That a man drives wagons into
Or plants his windbreak in.

Spaces stop time from hurting.
Over verst on verst of Russia
Are lime-tree avenues.”

Martyn Crucefix understands the central role language plays in our lives and in ‘Words and Things’ he places this awareness within the quiet context of an elderly individual who discovers “too late this absence of words” which now “builds a prison” – the poet recognises that “a man without language is no man” and that as the world of objects becomes too difficult to dominate he can only have knowledge of a world which “turns in your loosening grip”.

Review by Mario Petrucci

Friday, August 11, 2017

The Lovely Disciplines is a fascinating grove of acutely astute observations, where life and its slant significances flit, half-hidden, among the leaves.  Crucefix's recent translation of the Tao may be an influence here, and his focus of remembrance is, for me, at times strangely reminiscent of Hardy.  Writers aren't always remembered for their springs and summers, and perhaps ought even to flower more reliably as they mature.  If so, this collection may be Crucefix's slightly out of the way, gently burgeoning, early autumn meadow.

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