Sunday 3 December 2023

Martyn Crucefix, "Between a Drowning Man"

Martyn Crucefix is a British poet and translator. He is the author of seven original collections of poetry, most recently Cargo of Limbs (Hercules Editions, 2019) and Between a Drowning Man (Salt, 2023). He has received an Eric Gregory award, a Hawthornden Fellowship, and the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for his translations (from the German) of the poems of Peter Huchel (Shearsman, 2019). His translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies (Enitharmon, 2006) was shortlisted for the Popescu Prize for Poetry Translation. His translations of essays by German poet and novelist, Lutz Seiler, In Case of Loss, has just been published by And Other Stories. A major Rilke Selected Poems, Change Your Life, will be published by Pushkin Press in 2024. Till recently a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at The British Library, Martyn also edits the Acumen Poetry Magazine Young Poets web page. His blog and website, including more details on publications, are here

About Between a Drowning Man
Martyn Crucefix’s new collection of poems traces the forensic unfolding of two different 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 diverse source materials and inspiration from Hesiod and the so-called vacana poems, written in India in the 10/12th century – all bound together by the repeated refrain of bridges breaking down. The shorter sequence of Italian poems, a crown of sonnets, is more formally controlled, but the close repetition of first and last lines of the individual poems likewise serves to suggest an overarching unity.

In the end, both sequences travel towards death which – while not denying the reality of human mortality and the passage of time – is intended to represent a challenge to the powerful dividing walls between Thee and Me, the liberation of empathetic feeling, perhaps 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.’

Here are two podcasts in which Martyn discusses this new collection of poems: Planet Poetry and A Mouthful of Air. Below, you can read two poems from the collection. 

From Between a Drowning Man

Two poems from ‘Works and Days’

‘how you order’ 

how you order then sip your flat white with care
or diesel with care or cling film

or eat responsibly sourced seafood with care
red meat or bottled carbonated water

you dispose of in the bins provided with care
with care what you have locked away

what you have stowed in the understairs cupboard
how you travel by land sea and air with care

then insist on being used by the language with care
with care conversing with friends

when touching friends and your extended family
with care your actions

have a care and your reactions with care
with a passionate care where possible your politics

how you govern or set out to work or choose
how and who you play with tomorrow

with care I mean take care not forgetting
all the bridges are down

‘to tell the truth it’s hardly more’
to tell the truth it’s hardly more
      than a convenient extension to the back lot
of the forecourt of my local BP garage
      on the northernmost side of this satellite town
yet we all agree it’s an excellent shop
      which means we’ll be back here tomorrow
and the next day most likely and in this way
      family traditions put down roots
as today we buy tampons and baked beans
      a salad bag and a brace of frozen garlic bread
at the very last moment we choose
      to snatch up a print newspaper from its rack
with its bold and reassuring headline
      all bridges fit for purpose says govt. minister

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