The Lovely Disciplines: Martyn Crucefix, Seren
Martyn Crucefix is closing in on his third decade as a poet of renown. His first collection, the wonderfully titled Beneath Tremendous Rain came out 28 years ago, when this reviewer still thought pop tarts were one of the main food groups. Obviously I missed out on the early work of Crucefix at the time, but I am now up to date and you could, at a stretch, call me a fan.
And now we have The Lovely Disciplines, a collection that came out last year and is described by the publisher as a “highly accomplished mid-career book”. It’s put out on the almost always brilliant Seren books, a Welsh press with an impressive hit rate.
When I received this book to review, the first couple of read-throughs brought certain words to the forefront: “Comfortable. Consummate. Clever”. Other words that didn’t begin with the letter c. At first, this seems like a collection of adequate poems written by someone who clearly knows his craft but, maybe, hasn’t quite stretched his legs with this one.
But, as often happens, I may have been wrong. I don’t think one can review a book unless you fall in to it with gusto. I have now read The Lovely Disciplines straight through 12 times. I have folded pages, highlighted passages and changed my mind on several poems at least three times.
The book itself is split in to three sections. ‘Scree We Ride’, ‘The Lovely Disciplines’ and ‘Boy Racer’, each focusing on separate parts of life. In the first we see Crucefix focusing on the everyday, the mundane, the typically unsexy and finding magic in these moments. The eroticism found in a trip to the opticians in ‘R-O-M-J-X’ is beautifully noticed: “she asks is it better with or better without / her glass in his eye like sweets in his mouth.”
He finds a great explorer in ‘a ragged man’ in the excellent ‘On Stukeley Street’, taking us from the stark realities of homelessness;
a pile of rags
that stinks of no one’s urine
but his own
Through to the wonders of the imagination, of hope and dreams;
to Yellowknife to Inuvik
to the Great Bear and the Great Slave
It’s a tried and tested poetic skill; start small, grow big, end deep. But Crucefix is clearly well versed in how to pull it off with aplomb.
In the second section there are frequent meditations on grief and loss, on family and the passing of time. This is where the meat of the collection lies, where the poet seems to be enjoying himself the most, something that seems at odds with the darker themes but something I understand well. The short but powerful ‘Words and Things’ paints the portrait of a man ravaged by age;
no longer able
to dominate objects as once you did
the world turns in your loosening grip
It’s sad and clever and punchy. If I missed its strength the first time round, the tenth or so reading brought it to the forefront of the collection. I now feel, along with the aforementioned ode to the eroticism of the opticians, it is the best piece here.
The third section, ‘Boy Racer’, seems less intrinsically linked but still contains some quality pieces, especially ‘Street View’, an epic of sorts that starts with the capture of our erudite narrator on Google street view.
So back to the c-words to finish this off. I would suggest we replace comfortable with captivating and add cerebral (which sounds better than clever) and confident. I believe confidence is the key to this collection. After three decades, this may be his finest hour. Highly recommended. Just give it time and treat it with the respect it deserves.