MTC Cronin, ‘The Law of Poetry’ in The Alternative Law Journal

One lazy Sunday afternoon (according to Chapter 2 of the Book of Mark), Jesus and some of his disciples wandered through a grain field, picking a few heads of grain. The Pharisees asked him why they would do that given that it was unlawful to do so on the Sabbath. Ever the pragmatist, Jesus replied that ‘The Sabbath was made to meet the needs of people, and not people to meet the requirements of the Sabbath.’ Implying, that God’s commandments are uttered for the benefit of his people, not as tools of oppression. A similar theme (albeit one perhaps more grounded in 19th Century English Romanticism rather than theism) seems to motivate the creative work of MTC Cronin in The Law of Poetry, especially given the choice of epigraph:‘True laws aren’t manmade, they make man’.

The front cover of this volume depicts a Medieval drawing of a hermaphrodite with two heads and tiny genitals. This is a wonderful hint as to the internal normative architecture of the collection (whose component pieces are equally fun to read in consecutive or random order) which challenges orthodoxy on many levels, but never really preaches. There’s a tradition in rabbinic theology, which portrays Adam in the Garden of Eden as an androgyne — a being with two heads, which is both male and female. According to this tradition, God first offered all the animals of the Earth to Adam as potential ‘companions’ but all were refused. So the androgyne Adam, made in God’s own image, was bifurcated into man and woman. Who is then the subject of creation? The man, the woman, the androgyne, God? Given that they are all radically different manifestations of the same archetype, what is true of one ought to be true of them all. With that in mind, I devoted a couple of weeks of my jealously protected ‘reading for pleasure’ time to immersing myself in The Law of Poetry.

I admit to never having read any of Cronin’s previously published work, despite having a reasonably healthy appetite for contemporary verse. I’ve always been wary of poems with ‘a message’ or which have a didactic element. For me the prettiness of the words, the liquidness of the cadence and the honesty of the introspection are what draw me back to particular poems. Which is why I’ve been a Walt Whitman tragic since adolescence. And I was pleased to discover that there is a Whitmanesque quality to the structure of some of the works in this volume, as well as some commonality of theme and motif. There’s an undeniable celebration of what it means to be an individual, both intellectually and morally, in these poems, the shorter ones in particular. The Law of Threes, The Outlaw and The Universal Laws of Unnecessary Things, you could easily read while waiting for the kettle to boil at breakfast but still be thinking about at dinner time. I certainly agree with other reviewers that these are poems for ‘thinkers’, but as Stephen Fry says about claims that Ulysses is too highbrow for the average reader, they are ‘about as pretentious as a baked bean’. Although there is the occasional attempt to subvert some hoary old hierarchical binary oppositions found in ‘the law’, for the reader with a Postmodern bent.

I didn’t feel that I got to know much of the personal, internal life of the poet after finishing the collection — although The Little Law That Controls A Sponge and The Law Surrounding Fruit From Three Year Old Treesseem to search for the sort of deceptively concise introspective brilliance of Ted Hughes’ ‘Full Moon and Little Frieda’ or Dylan Thomas’ ‘Fern Hill’. I couldn’t help feeling that what glimpses I did get of Ms Cronin and her worldview were artifacts of her creative design rather than the sort of soul baring rawness we get from these other poets. That’s not necessarily a weakness in the writing or an indication of any failed attempt at self-examination, but it does perhaps explain a certain degree of contrived naivety in some of the works in the anthology.

There are quite a few express attributes of influence among the poems, which I enjoyed exploring almost as much the unacknowledged (perhaps sometimes presumed) influences, which seem to operate at the level of what Harold Bloom would call kenosis and daemonization, where the author unashamedly seeks to assert their own aesthetic originality. These influences never struck me as awkward or laboured, but provided a few hours of literary entertainment in attempting to deconstruct the Cronin’s segues into her own objects of interest and curiosity.

NIGEL STOBBS teaches law at Queensland University of Technology

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