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The Time We Turned by Martyn Crucefix (Shearsman Chapbooks)

The Time We Turned by Martyn Crucefix (Shearsman Chapbooks)

In Mary Lavin’s short story ‘The Widow’s Son’ a woman waits outside her gate for her son to come home from school. A passing neighbour stops and comments upon the steepness of the hill next to the farmhouse and suggests that it is a feature of such prominence that it will be found on the Ordnance Survey map:

“If that’s the case,” said the widow, “Patrick will be able to tell you all about it. When it isn’t a book he has in his hand it’s a map.”
“Is that so?” said the man. “That’s interesting. A map is a great thing. A map is not an ordinary thing. It isn’t everyone can make out a map.”

The conversation is central to the story because the widow is incapable of seeing ahead; she is incapable of recognising how her bullying manner in bringing up her son will lead to her losing him. Maps not only refer to the way places relate to each other; they also bring back memories and arouse expectations. They reveal a sense of how we relate to the world around us.

In his powerful poem ‘The map house’, the opening piece in the volume The Time We Turned (Shearsman Chapbook, 2014), Martyn Crucefix presents us with a delicate and moving understanding of how maps and memory intertwine.

‘When I knew him I knew him in the city
then in this northern town

there he was walking towards me
still balding aggressively though slate-grey tufts

and corkscrews the colour of the skies
on that morning above the fells

proliferated over and round his ears—
there beside him the son I’d never seen

though by then he was already six years old
and that morning already two Easters ago

The man recalled! The opening statement in the past tense, emphasised by the placing of ‘then’ as the first word of the second line, gives way to movement as ‘was’ is juxtaposed with the present participle, ‘walking’. The looming reconstruction has a cinematic effect with the phrase ‘towards me’ and the vista widens to include ‘the son I’d never seen’. An elegiac tone is introduced with the sense of a particular moment of the past being high-lighted with the distance of ‘then’ giving way to ‘that morning’ and the poet’s removedness from the picture, the map, is offered to us with the finality of ‘already two Easters ago.’
The second section of the poem gives us the context for the thoughts which have returned now although the poet lost touch with his friend. The owner of the temporary accommodation in which the poet sits has ‘decked’ (note the association with oceans of travel) the house ‘with maps of all kinds / both upstairs and down’. In looking at these maps Crucefix discovers what Philippe Jaccottet was to term an ‘ouverture’: a rent in the world, an opening through which the past becomes immediate once more:

‘One of those evenings we met in the city
he confessed his love of the thrill

of standing on the ground floor of Stanfords
on Long Acre of being surrounded

by maps and globes and charts in books’

The shop in Covent Garden, on Long Acre, merges the rural and the urban in its placing and the poet remembers that what really excited his friend about maps was not to do with dimensions (‘the length or breadth of a map’) but with its ‘other hidden dimension…something always there if you look for it’.
This is a serious elegy and its conclusion points to a dimension which goes far beyond the particular:

‘I’d want to tell it right—some obscurely-
inherited sense of debt or what promise is it
we make to those we hardly see for years—

I’d want to say it was past seven o’clock
or perhaps by then even seven-fifteen—

I’m sure of it now—a quarter past the hour
was the time we turned and part of what it meant’

The tone of voice is that of W.S. Graham’s ‘The Thermal Stair’. But as I re-read the poem for the third time what came most to my mind was a letter written in 1842 describing Matthew Arnold’s reaction to the death of his father, Thomas, the famous Headmaster of Rugby School:

‘Matthew spoke of one thing which seemed to me very natural and affecting: that the first thing which struck him when he saw the body was the thought that their sole source of information was gone, that all that they had ever known was contained in that lifeless head. They had consulted him so entirely on everything, and the strange feeling of their being cut off for ever one can well imagine.’

The Time We Turned
is a chapbook of ‘New Poems’ and it contains a sequence of sixteen sonnets inspired by the writing of the Galician Rosalia de Castro and, as the blurb on the back of this lovely little book states, these sonnets ‘explore the way in which we inhabit time’. I urge you to get hold of this little thirty-page volume: you will return to it time and time again.

Ian Brinton 2nd December 2015

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