‘Look to the Crocus’, by Marion McCready

Collections of poems have sometimes been called ‘anthologies’ but the original meaning of the word ‘anthology’ was that of a gathering of flowers, something more than a mere bouquet or posy. The poems in Marion McCready’s third book show an intense botanical fascination and as a result are not the faded, brittle pressed blooms you might find in a Victorian scrap album. We see this immediately from the opening title poem:

Eyelids are the final petals closing on this life.
When I die, place crocuses on my eyes – they will guide me.

[…]

Don’t be fooled – crocuses are wild as a fairground wheel
spinning out of control. The crocuses were coughed up out of 
           the ground;
they are scattered round tree trunks like residue from a terrible
          accident.

(from ‘Look to the Crocus’)

Although McCready does regularly write in the first person, her fixation on flowers and the natural world means that she avoids an overly solipsistic or even anthropocentric poetry. It is through her vividly lyrical study of the world around that she begins to make sense of the human condition and loves and losses in her life – this collection, for instance, is dedicated ‘In memory of my parents’. In ‘Igloo’ the pathos of personal grief impinges on a memorable family afternoon playing in a snowy garden but there is a sense that the speaker begins to make peace with what has happened, or at least reach a different level of understanding:

I welcome this memorable white spell

to wipe away the last harsh winter of my mother –
the crisp Antarctica
           of the high dependency unit
where she spent her final hours.

[…]

           Our children could be anywhere –
wrapped in the tight bud of a white rose;
harnessed to a snow moon;
or with my mother, in the hospital bed,
their smiles – a warm star
on either side of her. 

These poems do adumbrate a belief in the afterlife, but in no narrowly religious sense. McCready’s poems are infused with a sort of pantheism that means the force of life and the evidence of a creator flows through the poet’s vision of reality and repeatedly provides strength, succour and solace:

The Arrochar Alps are faces of those I have loved
resting at peace; faces I carry with me,
like a bag of precious stones

taking them out daily, one by one,
and holding them up to the light.

(from ‘Precious Stones’) 

I think that much of McCready’s strong sense of belonging in the spiritual, physical and verbal worlds comes from both her appreciation of her surroundings and her often startling and inventive use of similes and metaphors. It is this skill that binds and connects her to the world and therefore grounds the poems, ensuring that do not become too high-flown, mystical or abstract. It has long been said that the way some poets interpret what happens around them is a form of pareidolia, the instinctive human urge to see meaning and patterns in an often chaotic and aleatory world. In ‘Apple of My Tree’, for example, we are told ‘Apples multiplied daily like protesters / outside a corrupt parliament’. In a seemingly simple image and short sentence we are not only given as whole new way of looking at ripe apples on trees, we are also given a very tacit comment on the state of our nation. In effect, we are shown that these poems are not escapist flights of fancy, but hyper-aware and relevant statements.

That said, one of the primary appeals of McCready’s work is the opportunity to simply spend time luxuriating the quality of her words, words to savour:

The old lights of the ferry slowly trickle
down the neck of the Clyde.

The ferry has long since departed.
It does not look back to the held out,
unshook hand of the pier.

 (from ‘Lights’)

The choice of ‘unshook’ instead of ‘unshaken’, although grammatically incorrect, feels better in the context of the poem and makes the stunning last image stand out even more. Time and again McCready talks about topics that have been amply covered before by poets but she finds her own territory through her deft use of imagery and language to reach something new, something sacral:

[…] At twilight, the sky

is smoky purple and leaking
small clouds; a knocked-over lava lamp
dripping across the horizon.

Winter’s chilled hooves chase us back inside
as the shutters of night slide down,
bolting the door on another day of our lives. 

(from ‘On Another Day’)

Much has been made of the influence of Sylvia Plath and Theodore Roethke (who shared McCready’s botanical idee-fixe) but reading these poems I was reminded more of a home-coming in her work to her Scottish literary forebears. In ‘Rowan’ the titular tree suddenly takes on a life of its own (‘the rowan took off from my garden / flew over the house like a heron’) and this is redolent of Sorley MacLean’s poem ‘Hallaig’ where he brings life back to the ghostly, Clearances-depredated village of ‘Hallaig’ by anthropomorphising the native trees as the spirits of the dead women of the settlement. Elsewhere we have nods to George Mackay Brown, the Brahan Seer and to the Scottish ballad tradition, full of magic and shape-shifting. In ‘Look to the Crocus’ Marion McCready truly and vitally does dwell in poetry and produces a work of both necessity, illumination and efflorescence as well as spiritual and aesthetic pleasure. 

Look to the Crocus is published by Shoestring Press

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