O. at the Edge of the Gorge, Martyn Crucefix
Design: Phyllida Bluemel
Guillemot Press, 2017
The O in ‘loneliness’
‘O’ has a full stop in the title because it’s a person – Orpheus perhaps (but only partly), and not a declamatory ‘O’. What struck me most in reading was an acute sense of loneliness. The key vowel in the word ‘alone’ is ‘O’.
The season is summer. The landscape is beautiful and Italian. But the natural gorge that crowns this crown of sonnets is a metaphor for all endings. The delicate and strange illustrations between the poems (on thin folds of nearly transparent paper) map – among other things – the journey of a cloud of carpenter bees towards that gorge.
Even on the cover of this beautifully designed publication I was struck by the letter 'O' – in the title, in the word ‘gorge’, and even in the publisher’s name ‘Guillemot’. The word ‘gone’ rings dolefully in the epigram from Dante’s Paradiso (‘consider Luni and Urbisaglia / How they have gone’) as well as at least five times inside the poems, including at the end of three lines; (it is interestingly resisted in the first line of sonnet 7).
The carpenter bees are less a swarm than ‘each lone speck / vanishing into the gorge’. The fall of whole cities (Luni and Urbisaglia) is less troubling by far than the empty ‘car she parked eight hours before’, and the fact that ‘she’s left no trace – / even to his lover’s eye no shape no evidence’. No shape, no evidence. Loneliness. The ‘O’ sounds multiply as ‘O’ relives the Orpheus experience, but with no ghost, no loved one:
‘The Ormanni Filippi and Alberichi gone
yet she’s the one he hoped to look back on—
[ ... ]
to snatch a look to thrust the pale bars
of his bare-knuckled fist to close on her
to close on it to close on her
only to find she definitely is not there—
not to be seen not open to touch or taste
or smell the old denial kicking in
O god if not quite gone then [ ... ]
In fact, her essence is reduced to ‘a little spoonful of cold sand in his palm’.
‘O’ (sounding both long and short) is the keening vowel that seems to me to dominate. I can’t help reading the sequence as an aching hymn to loneliness. Perhaps it’s underpinned by personal loss; perhaps more the universal concept of the way that ‘each lone speck’ vanishes into the gorge. No comfort to know there are other carpenters.