Martyn Crucefix translates Federico Garcia Lorca




Tamar and Amnon
for Alfonso García Valdecasas

Moon wheeling across the sky,
no water on the plain,
hot summer now scattering seeds,
talk is of tiger and flame.
And miles above the roof beams,
nerves of metal squeal,
a twisted breeze comes blowing in
with the bleat of wool.
And spread-eagled, the earth shows
its barely-healed hurt,
or it shivers in incandescent white
of cauterising heat.


In her dreams, Tamar was lost,
birds in her throat,
with the swish of cool tambourines,
a moonlit lyre stroked.
Up in the eaves, her nakedness,
North the palm grove,
she wishes for snow on her belly,
on her back, hailstones.
How Tamar loves to sing her songs,
stark-naked to the roofs,
while scattered around her feet
are five chilly doves.
Amnon is slim and definite
in his tower, gazing,
brimming, full, his frothy groin,
his beard swaying.
Her nakedness is all lit up
on the terrace below.
The whispering between his teeth,
an arrow striking home.
And now Amnon shifts his gaze
towards the rising moon,
but finds his sisters’ firm breasts
only obscure the moon.


It’s half-past three and Amnon lies
sprawled upon his bed.
The whole room is an agony,
wings crowd his head.
In its grave of dirt-brown sand,
a dull light inters
villages or unearths the brief
pink of rose and dahlias.
First-pressed lymph of silence,
dripping into urns.
On moss-covered trunks of trees,
a hanging cobra croons.
Amnon groans deep in the cool
linens of his bed.
The crawling ivies of his chills
obscure his burning blood.
In silence, Tamar tip-toes in
to the noiseless room,
the colouring of vein and Danube
distantly traced and dim.
—Tamar, my eyes, erase them,
in your certain dawn.
Threads of my blood have hitched
ruches in your gown.
—Leave me, brother, leave alone.
Your kisses on my neck
are like a twinned swarm of flutes,
a wasp and wind attack.
—Tamar, in your swelling breasts,
two fishes bid me rouse
and your every single finger-tip
speaks of locked-in rose.


In the courtyard, the hundred horses
of King David neighed.
Against the wispy vines, in slabs,
still the sun remained.
Already he’s ripped her dress,
her hair in his grip.
In streams, a warm coral’s daubed
over a pale map.


O what commotion then was heard
from the upper floor!
What a thicket of blades they found
and her clothes torn.
Slaves, on the dismal staircase,
hurrying up and down
as if they played, thighs and pistons
under stilled clouds.
Beside Tamar, the gypsy virgins
set up such a howl,
while others gathered up the drops
of her martyred flower.
The pure white cloths turning red
in the shuttered room.
Rumours of shifts in vine and fish
and then tepid dawn.


The frenzied violator, Amnon,
flees on his horse
with black bow-men loosing arrows
from watch-towers and walls.
And when four hoofs were echoes,
nothing more to hear,
King David took a pair of shears
to the strings of his lyre.

Martyn Crucefix’s most recent publications are The Lovely Disciplines (Seren, 2017) and two chapbooks: O. at the Edge of the Gorge (Guillemot Press, 2017) and A Convoy (If a Leaf Falls Press, 2017). He has also translated the poetry of Rilke and more recently the Daodejing – a new version in English (Enitharmon, 2016). Cargo of Limbs will be published by Hercules Editions in 2019. He blogs regularly on many aspects of poetry, translation and teaching:

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Ken Head reviews Martyn Crucefix's 'Hurt'

Hurt  by Martyn Crucefix Enitharmon Press ISBN:  978-1-904634-97-3 £9.99 114pp

From first to last, Martyn Crucefix’s impressive fifth collection offers writing of quality and worth.  Arranged in three sections, its fifty-one thematically and stylistically varied poems nevertheless achieve a telling unity in both the seriousness of their subject matter and the poet’s exact and detailed observation of it.  In part one, pointedly sub-titled At the cross-hairs, there are, for example, nine poems whose focus is intricate, intimate and personal, together with a single poem in seven substantial parts entitled More than it comes to, as fine and moving a response to the tragically perennial human activity of warfare as I have read.  As the title of the collection suggests, the poems in this section focus less on the comfortable areas of human life, than on those into which, sometimes painfully, sometimes joyously, complex intensities of feeling and experience force their way.  Invocation, the opening poem, makes this challenge immediately clear by placing, … the blood-spill of hurt / that opens flesh and bone immediately alongside, … you wiping love from between your legs and … when old habits, uncertain eyes give out, / when it’s dark wherever they put the light, / … cover him, cover him, cover his face.  

Whereas these first poems are tightly wrought, short-lined, sometimes elliptical and metaphorically complex, the seven poems from the American War which follow (and which bring to mind Walt Whitman’s Leaves Of Grass) are in the long-lined, conversational, vernacular style of a young man writing home from the war to his mother:  I pick’d up my pen & wrote my mother, / That I knew how she suffered with the passing of these days.  As the writer’s narration proceeds through descriptions of horror, … at the foot of the tree a heap of amputated legs & arms & hands, about which war has taught him more than he would choose to know, … Of the two officers, feet pinned to the ground by bayonets, / Of sharp blades stuck through them, they receiv’d twenty thrusts, we come to understand that the use of historical detail from the American Civil War serves as a running metaphor for the wider moral purpose of developing the poet’s indictment of the inhumanity of all war:  And all of those brave men, they also are all boys. / I saw their naked limbs through the scurf of well-worn clothes, / … Such flesh as they had, I thought it glowed through their clothes.  

Alongside the terrible inventory of slaughter in this poem, there is also much balancing witness to compassionate humanity, the superiority of individuals to the political and miltary machines that wreck their lives and of their care for each other in the darkest times:   I staid a long time at the bed-side of the young Baltimorean. / I staid certainly because death had mark’d him and he was quite alone.  The narrator’s voice is so clear, so present in the lines as to be at times overwhelming in its quiet acceptance.  In the poem’s final stanza, for example, with his own death imminent, he writes, for the last time, To his own mother: / It is true, of course, that I am not well these days. / It is most likely hospital poison has penetrated my system. / But do not think of me this way, do not see your boy this way, / Remember me as I was and must surely be again.  Memory, remembrance.  The words make it hard, for me impossible, not to be reminded of Remember, Christina Rossetti’s great sonnet:  Remember me when I am gone away, / Gone far away into the silent land.

Parts two and three of the collection are equally emotionally charged, equally serious both in subject matter and tone.  The introspective, even metaphysical, titles used throughout part two, Essays in island logic, titles such as, he considers the passage of time, he considers what the young have to teach and he considers the longevity of love, all suggest as much, despite their marked contrast with the direct, graphic, contemporary titles used in part three, Riders on the storm:  Tenby church acquarium, Emergency services, Scraps and Calling in the dark.  This last is a poem about the poet’s elderly parents and, by implication, therefore, about the inevitability for all of us of becoming old.  In some ways a simple description of the poet’s mother’s struggle with her mobile ’phone which, … buried in her bag, manages somehow to ring his number and so allows him to listen in on his mother’s irritable tone as she speaks to his father, it expresses also the universally understood sorrow of a son who, looking on as his parents edge towards death, hopes to be solicitous to the last, but recognizes his helplessness:  It’s painful to listen … Enough.  I end the call.  I cannot bear to pry / on what is coming closer / and will carry them away.  

Hurt investigates important questions, some merely difficult, others imponderable.  In part one of Wilderness, for example, the meditative poem which, in seven sections, closes the book, Crucefix suggests, perhaps puzzlingly, that the right and proper end / of all questioning is a cumulative sense of well-being, that coming to grips with life’s complexity rather than ignoring it, is, paradoxically, the means to being well.  A difficult idea for societies dedicated to pleasurable amnesia, a life spent floating.  Later, in part six, though, he uses the day-to-day changes in the appearance of the surface of a lake to enlarge the point.  Some days, he says, the murk / seems unfathomable, / a thing of gleams / and flashes / … of nothing that is clear at all, while at other times,  it seems so beautiful / it leads us to hope / that it might allow us / no reason to flinch, / nor bully, nor brawl / but shift in the wind, / with the flood:  try not / to hold on but let go.  And we begin to understand.

©2011:  Ken Head

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The Fifth Day of Christmas

Angels understand eternity.

Always causes mortals trouble
as they try to grasp the absence
of an afterwards
or believe before has been
emptied of all meaning.

Angels speak to shepherds first.

Shepherds’ long night-watches,
on slowly-changing hillsides
beneath  sky’s starred enormity,
prepare them, more than most,
to be at peace with vast
and heaven-centred wonder;

Angels borrow shepherds to run errands.

Their trade persuades them they can find
whatever they go looking for –
even if it’s wandered off
risking it will lose itself
along a dead-end path.

Angels visit intermittently.

Shepherds simply do not leave:
they keep on pushing through
the crowds, like eager strangers,
full of what they’ve seen, intent
on stretching more imaginations
round the notion of an always
crosswise-intersecting now.

*Michael Bartholomew-Biggs is a retired mathematician living in London. He has published several poetry collections, most recently Tradesman’s Exit  (Shoestring
2009). He is poetry editor of the on-line magazine London Grip and
co-organiser of the Poetry in the Crypt reading series in Islington.

In our West Country town
we raised a Nativity —
it was almost life-size
in the way it’s done here
the Joseph and Mary
big-boned types from Chard
attending a manger
its yellow muslin bundle
its four turned chair-legs
and the kings no better
the shepherds as tinkers
but the remarkable thing
was a piebald mongrel
that visited the stable
each evening for weeks
sometimes to lift a leg
but vanishing away . . .
till a day it never came
and the people of this town
as one met the bill
to stuff its pelt life-hard
with a fine yellow sawdust
to install a modern saint
in the familiar stable

*Martyn Crucefix’s most recent collection, Hurt, was published by Enitharmon. His translation of Rainer Maria Rilke’s Duino Elegies
(Enitharmon 2006) was shortlisted for the 2007 Popescu Prize for
European Poetry Translation. His translation of Rilke’s Sonnets to
Orpheus will be published in 2012.

Three French Hens


Click here for accompanying singing hen film

*Ira Lightman
makes public art in the North East (the Spennymoor Letters, the Prudhoe
Glade, the Gatesheads) and lately Willenhall and Southampton. He
devises visual poetry forms and then asks local communities to supply
words that will bring them alive. He is a regular on BBC Radio 3′s The Verb.

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The Sixth Day of Christmas

Living Yule

I was there, when men squatted on haunches

to chip flint and weave webs of belief
 from seasons
and circles of death and growth.

The stink of boar-grease stiffening my braid

and blue whorls whispering under my skin 

offered hope that darkness could end.

I put on homespun robes and tonsured my head
to walk the years when dogma stalked faith;
smoothing old ways and old faces to new shapes,
nudging builders to find safe spaces in stone arches.
Heedless of changed names for the turns of the year,
I watched the ploughman bury cakes for first cut,
crooned the song of seasons round to seed-time.

I’ve paced the years’ life and I am still here to die
ever again. Hide me beneath plastic and tinsel,
dress me in red, fatten my cheeks, sweeten my story;
the scent of old circles clings to the shade of man.

Angela France

More through a faint vibration of the air
on our skin than by the ear,
we feel his arrival and hurry out –
leave the unfamiliar house for a darkness that
to our urban eyes is solid pitch,
nothing close, no middle, no sense of distance,
just a freezing rural December night
and whatever we can feel beneath our feet.
And there he is, rear wheels slipping in the mud
frictionless as any proper god –
come with the intent of supplying us
with food and drink through the winter solstice.
Rotund, in the spill of his van’s light,
a pair of plump hands on hips, legs apart,
he stands there laughing at his predicament,
then punches away at the faint
signal on his phone but the place is too remote.
We offer to help him out –
begin to stumble to and fro in the lane,
in his rear-lights each like a crimson-faced clown –
trying gravel shovelled from the farm drive,
trying terracotta roof tiles
someone has tipped beside the bramble hedge.
We search for anything we might wedge
in the black slithering mess under his tyres,
straw, cardboard, logs, ironic prayers.
But the van still snarls like a tethered beast
and rocks to and fro like a helpless
child that fights the confines of its cradle . . .
Then he dismisses us with a smile.
He sends us back to light and warmth,
saying something like it’s what I’m here for.
We shut the door, relieved, to be honest.
We leave him to the closing vice of frost
and next morning scarves of mist
replace the dark that with him have vanished.
Wheel ruts, gravel, red tiles broken:
we laugh in daylight – did this really happen?
Outside, there is so little evidence to show.
Inside, shelves overflow.

Martyn Crucefix

*Angela France has had poems published in many of the leading journals, in the UK and abroad. She has an MA (with distinction) in ‘Creative and Critical Writing’ from the University of Gloucestershire and is studying for a PhD. Her second collection, Occupation is available from Ragged Raven Press and a third will be out with Nine Arches Press in 2011.

*Martyn Crucefix's  prizes include a major Eric Gregory award and a Hawthornden Fellowship. He has published 4 collections, including An English Nazareth
(Enitharmon, 2004). His translation of Rilke’s Duino Elegies was
published by Enitharmon in 2006, shortlisted for the Popescu Prize for
European Poetry Translation. His new collection,
Hurt, has just been published by Enitharmon. 

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