In his fourth collection, Northumbrian poet Martin returns again to the geography, themes, and motifs that have run through his previous work, particularly the pagan myths of the Anglo-Saxons, here transposed cunningly into the coal-mining country of his youth. Martin divides his work into nine sections—a number with mystical significance for the goddess figure who is at its center—each introduced by a stark Celtic image. As might be expected, the poetry is full of heavy, almost druidic language calculated to evoke the pre-Christian epics (contemporary with the goddess myths that Martin is striving to emulate), but there is also a generous sprinkling of balladry, psalms, hymns, and children’s rhyming games. The author’s lines are short, pithy, concentrated at times to the point of abstraction, and his rhythms are jagged and disconcerting. The overall structure is a sort of loose stitching of similar but discrete elements, suffused by an almost palpable longing for community, for old times, for love. Martin is often compared to David Jones, but where Jones is difficult because of his frequent recourse to private symbolism and personal history, Martin’s very language is difficult, using obsolete regionalisms that will leave many American readers puzzled.
Still, this is a powerful, somewhat disturbing work with a hard, cranky music, slow going but with a distinct cumulative force.