Between a Drowning Man
Martyn Crucefix’s new collection of poems trace the forensic unfolding of two landscapes – contemporary Britain post-2016 and the countryside of the Marche in central, eastern Italy. Both places are vividly evoked – the coffee shops, traffic tailbacks, shopping malls, tourist-dotted hillsides and valleys of modern Britain appear in stark contrast to the hilltop villages, church spires, deep gorges, natural history and Classical ruins of Italy. Both landscapes come to represent psychic journeys: closer to home there is division everywhere – depicted in both tragic and comic detail – that only a metaphorical death of the self seems able to counteract. Closer to the Mediterranean, the geographical and personal, or romantic, divisions are also shown ultimately to offer possibilities of transcendence.
The poems of the longer sequence, ‘Works and Days’, are startlingly free-wheeling, allusive – brilliantly deploying source materials and inspiration from Hesiod’s original and the 10/12th century Indian vacana poems – all bound together by the repeated refrain of bridges breaking down. The Italian poems, as a crown of sonnets, are more formally controlled but the repeating of first and last lines of the individual poems likewise serves to suggest the presence of an overarching unity.
In the end, both sequences travel towards death which – while not denying the reality of human mortality, the passage of time – is intended to represent a challenge to the powerful dividing walls between Thee and Me, the liberation of empathetic feeling, even the Daoist erasure of the assumed gulf between self and not-self: ‘these millions of us aspiring to the condition / of ubiquitous dust on the fiery water’.
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