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.
words by Claire Cronin
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.