Friday 23 February 2024

Review by Martyn Crucefix of "Modern Fog" by Chris Emery

Chris Emery’s new collection presents, and intends to see beyond, the Modern Fog of its title. Here are walking poems, encounters with creatures, and images of modern life’s scruffy ‘dreck.’ ‘The Bay’ can be read as a condensed version of Larkin’s ‘Here,’ the walker arriving at a bay, dotted with ruined buildings. This image of transience, in effect a memento mori, is softened a little with Emery’s insistence that the homesteads ‘still hold their ounce of love.’ 

In ‘Day Fox,’ the animal’s ‘living amber’ is seen against the green of grass, but its later death is also clear: ‘his pelt was tar black and slicked back.’ Emery goes beyond the fact of death as, in the corpse’s wasting away, ‘the world / relaxed into him with all its fiery prayers.’ To declare this an image of an afterlife is to lack subtlety, yet Emery is surely probing Eliot’s idea that ‘In order to arrive at what you are not / You must go through the way in which you are not’ (‘East Coker’). 

Emery’s images of our modern world – like an NCP car park, the final destination perhaps of the couple in ‘Newbies’ driving along ‘old roads, lobbed estates’ – function as foils to the ‘churchgoing’ side of his work. ‘The Wall Paintings’ – a visit to St. Andrew’s, Wickhampton – opens not with cycle clips, but with the equally evocative ‘thunk of a latch and then your eyes adjust.’ 

The final poem, ‘The Legacy,’ records the removal of an empty wasps’ nest. In the transformative effect of genuine poetry, the nest becomes a human life, ‘gorgeously dented,’ from which the creatures that made it have departed ‘to drone in apple acres / elsewhere darkening / with sweet ruin now.’ Whether we believe in such a place is, with writing as good as this, hardly the point, appealing as it does, through powerful imagery to a human longing for continuation in the face of what we think we know of death. 

About the reviewer
Martyn Crucefix's Between a Drowning Man is published by Salt in 2023; his translations of Peter Huchel (Shearsman) won the 2020 Schlegel-Tieck Prize. A Rilke Selected Poems, Change Your Life, is due from Pushkin Press, Spring 2024. You can find his blog here.  

You can read more about Modern Fog by Chris Emery on Creative Writing at Leicester here

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