Claire Cronin

A Heart Beats In The Dark


introduction by trevor elkin

I can find no words when Claire Cronin sings. Everything and everyone around me has to stop what they’re doing and be quiet so I can focus and, maybe, feel a little less vulnerable. It’s the strangest thing, but the slightest movement or raised voice is a distracting irritation that makes me angry. She seems to channel a connection to something beyond the music, to a rhythm that beats in the background our whole lives, but one which we only really hear in the stillness of our most authentic moments, in grief or humility. The drumming marks the passing of time, beat by beat, a reminder of our death and to try harder in life, while we can.  I suppose in listening, I’m trying to make that rhythm part of my life too. Inevitably it fades away, obliterated by the competing, demanding noises of everything else.

If you’re not already a fan of Claire Cronin’s work, you should know that there’s probably a huge hole in your life you never knew existed. A published poet, the English-Phd-turned folk-singer summons the dark archetypes and anti-heroes from the depths of our unconscious and, spider-like, spins a ghoulish narrative around them. Warnings from beyond, ghostly misadventures and redemption stories are shared like twilight campfire tales, with a voice that was intended for such a purpose.

Her latest album is streaming below. ‘Came Down A Storm’ was released earlier this year with Deerhoof’s John Dieterich and is a great introduction to Cronin’s arcane, poetic narrative. Once you’ve become fully immersed in its dark beauty, spend some time with the poems and songs Cronin has chosen for us, alongside her own account of their importance to her life and work.


5 Poems

words by Claire Cronin

‘Song’ – Brigit Pegeen Kelly

Brigit Pegeen Kelly seems to intuitively understand the rhythm and music of a line in an incredibly complex way. Some of her poems, like this one, also read like folktales. I love the violence and horror in this piece and how it’s balanced with beauty. The way the poem shifts into the ending takes my breath away, brings me to tears— all of those things that people say. Once I read it to a group of twelve year olds at my summer teaching job and it completely freaked them out. 

‘After a Death’ – Tomas Tranströmer

I haven’t read all of Tranströmer’s work but I had a printed copy of this poem in my apartment in Los Angeles. It feels like a true statement about grief and is comforting in that way, but it also makes strange leaps, like closing on the image of the samurai’s armor. My favorite line is the one about the TV. 

‘The Light the Dead See’ – Frank Stanford

Frank Stanford is a more recent discovery for me, although though he died (quite young) in 1978 and published books before then. His poems are obsessed with death. They feel both colloquial and plain-spoken (in a southern gothic way) and like they’re reaching to some higher spiritual plane.

‘Elms’ – Louise Glück

I chose “Elms” from a large collection of hers because it was the only poem where I had dared to fold the corner of the page! I liked Glück a lot when I was younger for her chilliness, psychological depth, and almost puritanical New England restraint. I spend my childhood growing up in a fancy Connecticut town before we moved back to California, so maybe this atmosphere resonates with me. 

‘Hall of the Woods’ – Sara Nicholson

Sara Nicholson is one of my contemporaries, I suppose, though I have never met her. I was in love with her debut book,The Living Method, which the small press Song Cave published in 2014. There are other poems in the book that I like more but this one was online and still gives you a good sense of how she mixes a self-aware, conceptual approach with a lyricism that is almost medieval.

5 Songs


Advance Base (Owen Ashworth)  “Pamela” 

I guess I’m starting in reverse chronological order because I only discovered this song and album a month or so ago. Advance Base came to play in Athens, GA (where I live now) on tour and I’m so glad I braved my exhaustion to go see the show. This song kills me— the melody and the way he writes the narrative about teenage parents and their possibly satanic baby. I am working on a cover.

Bright Eyes (Conor Oberst) – “Poison Oak”

This is another narrative song about a sad situation. I am not afraid to admit that I was very devoted to Bright Eyes in high school. I still think some of Conor Oberst’s songs are exquisitely written.

Neutral Milk Hotel (Jeff Mangum) – “Two-Headed Boy Pt. 2” 

There are many Neutral Milk songs I could have chosen. I felt religious about his music when I was younger and in a lot of trouble. I’d never encountered lyrics that could be so emotional yet also somewhat abstract— like a poem is— and of course the quality of his voice and the music surrounding it supports this feeling. This song felt like such a bare representation of a deep part of my psyche that it frightened me. I know a lot of people feel that way, but I feel that way too. I still get chills.

Songs: Ohia (Jason Molina) – “Farewell Transmission”

I feel so sad that Jason Molina is gone. I met him once when I was working at the college radio station and helped him set up a local show, but really my relationship to his music was a very private one. He is another amazing singer and musician, but his lyrics are what gut me. His songs remind me very much of Frank Stanford’s poetry, but of course he offered us his actual voice too, not just the words on the page. Ghosts, the moon, loss, suffering… it’s material that could become maudlin but it never is from him.

The Pogues – “If I Should Fall from Grace with God”

I’ve been playing a really slow, sad version of this song by The Pogues for a few years. I heard it first (in its raucous version) as a child because my dad is a big Pogues fan and I come from a family with intense Irish-Catholic roots. The lyrics, again, are what pull me in here— he’s saying something totally devastating but in this tough way. I played my version of the song at my grandfather’s funeral in Chicago— he was a tough Irish-Catholic man, former Notre Dame football player— and I could barely get through it without choking up. I like that this song believes in the afterlife but is full of despair. The singer worries that when he dies “the angels won’t receive me;” he asks to be buried in the ocean “where no murdered ghost can haunt me”. It’s basically my personal theme song.


The albums “Came Down A Storm” and “Over and Through” are on

Older music is also available on Claire Cronin’s own Bandcamp page

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