Review: Coronach by Martyn Halsall

By Alan Cleaver

Coronach is the title of this collection of poems and, the first line of the first poem helpfully explains Coronach is a  Gaelic word for a funeral song. coronach-thumb

Where this not poetry, you might be critical of someone using a word that he also needs to define for the reader.

But much of the joy in poetry is learning and exploring words. And exploring things is what Martyn, former poet in residence at Carlisle Cathedral and now resident in Santon Bridge, does so very well.

Grike was another of Martin’s words I had to look up. It’s a geological term for a fissure relating to limestone and akin to clintz – as I drive up and down Clintz Brow, Egremont, regularly it’s perhaps one I should have come across before.

And in one of those curious coincidences life throws at you, the term was used – and defined – in The Guardian’s Country Notebook the very next day.

Exploring new (to me) words is part of the enjoyment of reading poetry but don’t get the impression that Martyn’s poetry is going to be hard work.

The poems are are as soft and gentle as the man himself. He takes us into a word of ancient landscapes where animals, birds and butterflies roam.

I’m guessing it’s Scottish landscape for the most part but sadly there’s no Introduction to explain what inspired or brought all these poems together.

This is a world of long walks, ruins from ancient times, dykes ‘of turf and cobble’, sedge, skylarks and leaf, pebble and ‘stretch of debated bog’.

Martyn focuses on the detail to bring his poems into sharp focus. There are no cliches here or glib turns of phrase turned out without much thought.

When he talks about the Small Blue butterfly as a ‘torn-off scrap of sky’ it’s just the right phrase to describe the colour, shape and size of the creature.

There is some West Cumbrian too in this collection.

The touching poem Will’s Gift evokes the world of herdwick shepherds and the colours and tones of Wasdale but this is a selection that will have something for nature lovers wherever they are in the world.

It’s a world of peace, calm and reflection in an age usually filled with noise, tweets, emails and sound-bites.

Coronach is published by Wayleave Press: Sharp design, quality printing and art paper make this a booklet to cherish or give as a gift. But the bookbinder in me would have preferred a nice stitch to the harsh staples!