On Whistler Mountain (1994)

OWM Cover

Published by Sinclair-Stevenson in 1994: now only available through the author. On the demise of Sinclair-Stevenson Ltd. click here.

Critical Views:

Crucefix is at his best bringing physical truths faithfully into an intense focus whilst remaining alive to their more outlandish implications, their capacity for dream-making . . . . tendering poems of love and desire with great delicacy of gesture and movement . . . blending an earthy sensuality with fine cerebral observation    Tim Liardet Poetry Wales

“Richly various in its subject matter. The undoubted masterpiece is the title poem . . . He is the master of the small apocalypse. Martyn Crucefix has firmly staked his claim to be one of the most mature voices of the nineties”  John Greening, Poetry Review

“A substantial and rewarding collection . . . highly wrought, ambitious, thoughtful – and very good”  Alan Brownjohn, The Sunday Times

“The three most powerful poems in this extremely inventive collection intertwine two lines of inquiry or play one sequence off against another . . . full of tension and vicious observations”  Bill Greenwell, New Statesman.

“He likes to create an energetic criss-crossing of moods and words belonging to different people at different times . . . There is real vitality here and some sharp often comic observation”  Derwent May, The Times


With the publication of his first collection, Beneath Tremendous Rain, Martyn Crucefix was hailed as “an incisive new voice” (The Times) and “an outstanding talent from whom great things can be expected” (Herbert Lomas/Ambit). His poetry was acclaimed as “distinctive” and “richly enjoyable” (TLS), capable of “fusing lush sensuality with a bred-in-the-bone seriousness” (City Limits). Anne Stevenson praised him for “daring to break with secular convention” and eagerly anticipated the fulfillment of his evident promise as “a real artist” (Stand).

Crucefix’s new collection, On Whistler Mountain, fulfils and trumps these critics’ expectations. Here, the dead re-visit the living; a lover flies on real dove’s wings; an old soldier dreams he was one of the Magi; a computer programmer suffers a terrifying haunting. Wide-ranging, vivid and powerful, these poems leap sometimes shockingly, sometimes delightfully, into imaginative vision and, in doing so, Crucefix extends the remit of contemporary poetry. This new collection includes two ambitious longer works. ‘At The Mountjoy Hotel’, already recognised as a controversial poem, was a major prize-winner in the 1991 Observer/Arvon competition and was praised by Selima Hill: “The form, the language, the tone are spot-on. We feel we are in the hands of an expert”. The title poem combines the personal, mythical and political, interweaving themes of private loss with the horrors of modern warfare into an intense, almost Dantean, tour de force.

From this collection:


With a long pole,

his sweating assistant scoops a knob

of glass from the glowing cauldron,

looks for a sign – a grunt, a nod –

slips the cue to his master

who guides it towards a thorny stalk

where he snips off a fragment

to work with.

The glass grows crisp as it cools,

begins to ring beneath his touch.

He is building a rose,

watched by a crowd who dawdle

between the hotel and St Mark’s.

They’re no more than a knot

of silhouettes at the workshop door.

Behind them, brutal sunlight

stands upright in the square,

splays white fire round their shoulders.

The pole sweeps, relentless,

the hand of an old-fashioned clock.

Each squeeze of glass

marks the pink-bright birth

of a new petal, each flawless

and unnatural, until the last

which takes the craftsman’s touch,

a hint of being overblown,

a deft turning-back.

But the watching group has sagged

and gapped, the siren call

of lunch, wine, a long afternoon.

He secures the whole frail labour

to one laden rod

which he heaves up, and over,

plunges it suddenly like a foil

into the scorching heart of the kiln.

Stragglers drift away –

the numbing of chill wine in a glass

already on their fingers.

Behind them, the rose brightens

where it ought to be ash.


On the aisle marked Soap and Toiletries,

she was brushing at her lapels. Then she bent

and swept at her knees with the back of her hand.

I’d heard the rumours – how she was always busy

about the house, making, re-making beds

to chase caterpillars from between the sheets.

She mentioned her son. I’d known him at school.

He used to follow me round – I’d cut him dead

and never once wondered whether his mother knew.

A hand suddenly flapped at the surrounding air.

“He’ll marry soon”, she said, “I’m sure you will too?

Though to tell you the truth, I’m not really so well.

You see the problem? Such wonderful creatures,

but moths, all the time, they do pester so,

they pitch and tickle till it drives me mad . . .”

Then she moved to the tills, using a magazine

to flick at her breast, some troublesome spot.


Out of touch for months and the rumour’s changed.

They say that she’s dead, but I saw her today,

under the milky-bland strips of the supermarket,

by the razors and shampoo, hand deep in her purse

for change. She looked up. She saw me and snapped

the clasp and the air was alive with feathery

antennae. It grew hazy with dust from a thousand

wings that thickened above us, pitched upon her

and rested, slowly rippling like heat that folds

above a flame. There was change in my pocket.

So I pressed two coins softly onto her eyes

and she was gone – silver dropping from my thumb.

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