Spiritual Task

review by Moya Costello



Everything Holy
M.T.C. Cronin
Balcones International Press, Temple, Texas, 1999

the world beyond the fig
M.T.C. Cronin
Five Island Press, Wollongong University, 1999


If you have been, like me, not closely following a myriad of individual careers in poetry, but coming across individual poems in journals and anthologies and/or names of authors whom you begin to see on a regular basis in those journals and anthologies, then you will, like me, have come across the name M.T.C. Cronin.

Everything Holy and the world beyond the fig are in fact this poet's second and third books. Everything Holy is, as I write this review, in The Age Book of the Year poetry shortlist.

It's probably the better book of the two, in the sense that the world beyond the fig seems, generally speaking, a lighter collection. Works in Everything Holy are dense, abstract, intellectual. The world - perhaps more popularist and an easier read by comparison.

Naturally it becomes clear what kind of poet Cronin is when read in book form. The poem 'Eating Paint', written 'after Anthony Lawrence', in a kind of serious praise, settled me down into my views.

He…cut his paint not only with valium, but imagination

It's a poetry taking seriously the mystery of poetry, leaning toward the high plain of poetic creativity, invoking the act of writing poetry as an almost spiritual task. The titles of the collections tell you this too.

Possibly my favourite poem is in Everything Holy, 'The Way People's Bodies Mean the Word': a prose poem, a literary form I'm inclined to delight in, of fluid image and narrative:

…unexpectedly, at the end of a long pregnancy my hips slide out the earth and birthed it lands on the head of an unwary man and the girls on the balcony all laugh as beautiful as Sophia Loren in green and blue scarves eating watermelon…

Cronin can also incline to the list: for example, a series of images that seem startlingly 'true' in 'The Wept': 'the hidden under the skin of my face', 'the great gift of significance', 'the deepness of technique'. And in the poem 'Units', the 'alienation' of the city coupled with an urbane love story is captured in a series of abstract yet wistful images:

Out on the footpath
I bumped into my neighbour
With his handsome eyes… How about dinner
Sometime he asked with a smile
And tilted his head…I eat out
I said and ran laughing all the way down the street.

Her biog notes tell us that Cronin is a solicitor and a number of poems show this infiltration, as in 'Notorious Facts 1':

…it is unnecessary to call evidence
to show/that a fortnight is too short
a period for human gestation…

Cronin seems to have the volubility of the law; another book is forthcoming, and she's previously published most of the poems collected here in an array of poetry outlets. But, as well, she has the quality of the mystic, the new-ager, the highly subjective, the emotional, the imagistic, perhaps that, on the other hand, we wouldn't associate with the law.


Moya Costello is a writer of short fiction and a well known reviewer. She is employed as an editor by the University of South Australia.


M.T.C. Cronnin's poem in a hot day (mrangalli, februrary 1998) is published in this issue of TEXT.


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Vol 3 No 2 October 1999
Editors: Nigel Krauth & Tess Brady