Michael Farrell Reviews MTC Cronin

5 May 2013

‘The Crime of Fascination’ uses repetition powerfully:

Do not commit the crime of fascination
Adjudicate what is sought
Law doesn’t gamble
With your dark and light circumstances
You touch your life and still disbelieve it
Believing death is an act of survival
The world is still green as green as green

Minus the dreams Minus the dreams
It all changed only a minute ago
But you must be innocent of all that happens

The following poem, ‘The Gates of Heaven’, which cites Mandelstam twice, is lovely, as is the following poem with its apt title, ‘Sunrise in the Restricted Forest’. Neither is strained.

Cronin appears to want to be every kind of poet – or to represent all the kinds of poem in the world – but some of the kinds undermine others. Some poems are sweet, some savage, some very interesting (‘Carcass’, ‘Even Dead’). Some, like ‘More Than One Kind of Luck’, which portrays a pope, are great. By around page 100 others begin to feel like a mode of horoscope or new age affirmation: ‘The Two Stages Before Oblivion’ concludes, ‘because the two stages before oblivion/are accessible only to those who will die/and can’t forget it’; ‘‘Every Day’ begins, ‘You are the best material./You are the invitation’. The poem after a line by Nathan Shepherdson adds nothing to the line: ‘memory is the God that prays to us’. It undermines her own perfectly strong line: ‘it is their own memories nailed to the future’ (Cronin’s italics). The poem (‘Go Looking’) continues, ‘Light as a pinch of time/they are used by eternity’. Let’s say I have a middling capacity for consuming profundity; other readers will have more or less. It means that for me the mode becomes clichéd: I don’t really read it any more. Perhaps Cronin is interested in this, the emptying out of meaning. Yet what comes across is a lack of faith in her own poems: if that last one failed to do the job maybe this one will.

This gives the poems at times a prosaic aspect, but they are not strong prose. Several of the dedicated poems – including one for Celan and one for Ponge – seem to have no reader in mind. I don’t know why a poem like ‘My File’ was included. Cronin is capable of images as startling as those of the poets that are her mentors: ‘Three horses broken in half/at the end of autumn/lie in a field’ (‘The Broken-Hearted Town’) and ‘the ants do not for a second lose sight/of the crumb dropped last night/by the very brightest star’ (‘Its Own Mad Theory (To the End of Us)’). These should be more than redeeming. In ‘The Broken-Hearted Town’, Cronin admits that death can be boring:

Children stop playing the game
where everyone is dead 
to watch

an old cat dying
in a pool of sun.
They are still bored.

I wish this book were made of crumbs dropped from the brightest star: and there is evidence that it could have been. Perhaps the clue is in ‘Two Thousand Poems’:

Fate was never decided.
Two thousand poems later and still
the tip of its little finger remains unfilled.
You might have lived importantly
in a city or like the insignificant bucket
broken by the well in that dusty old town.
None of this matters when you have 
not done what you came here to do.
Don’t ask the great loud voice what that is.
You’re a fool if you listen to the murmurs 
intended for other parts of the earth.
Asleep in you three flowerbeds
or dancing around for cash
is all the same as a sun discussion
or reading stories on the sea.
You should enjoy this warning.
Cleaning up after yourself
is all God wants.

This poem evokes the possibility of a novel or a play, and a few characters with names and different lives would enliven the book. If only ‘The Family of True and Well Snails’ had been about that family. The character or novel are other possibilities for death’s metaphors. Cronin doesn’t deal in ‘the great loud voice’ but presses on the repertoire of metonyms for her poetics: god, dust, stars, children, dogs, death and other poets. Where the scenes of dust and stars take place I’m not sure: an Australian country town or Chilean village. I don’t care that they’re not specifically placed, yet more specifics might make for a less generic impression. Remarkable poems stand out (‘His Profession’; ‘The Dust in Everything’), but they do have to be remarkable.

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About Michael Farrell

Michael Farrell's I Love Poetry and A Lyrebird: Selected Poems are both out this year (2017): from Giramondo and Blazevox, respectively. His scholarly book, Writing Australian Unsettlement: Modes of Poetic Invention 1796-1945, was published by Palgrave Macmillan.

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