Martin Booth Essay - Critical Essays

Booth, Martin


Booth, Martin 1944–

Booth, a British poet, journalist, script writer, editor, novelist, and juvenile writer, writes about the relationship of past to present, drawing largely on mythological imagery and symbolism.

[Martin Booth in Coronis espresses a] fondness for the laconic fragment—a device which, enforced in his case by a trick of ritual repetition and a gravely hieratic tone, can become irritating; but otherwise he writes in a quite different vein. For the most part he eschews detailed observation for some attractively off-beat imaginings, where real things become significent in terms of the symbolic roles they play within some ceremony of the imagination. It is not always easy to discriminate in his work between the authentically original and the bizarrely fanciful: some of his images seem to float up fortuitously, others work out an impressively coherent logic of feeling. A mixed volume, in short, with some painfully false notes … and some signs of genuine talent. (p. 1154)

The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1973; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), October 5, 1973.

Roger Garfitt

[Martin Booth] is far too inclined to settle for easy answers, viz. his imitations of Crow, his intermittent sentimentality, and his rather easy recourse to the imagery of magic. He is one of those who hold the iatric view of poetry, that it exists to resolve the forces of the unconscious…. Booth's work is best when he focuses his style firmly onto the object in view, with certain personal ironies implicit underneath as in 'Whales off Sasketeewan' and 'Direption'. And when he combines his mythological interest with a sense of the present time, rooted both in history and in the galactic dimension, then the writing really does seem to promise something…. (pp. 111-12)

Roger Garfitt, in London Magazine (© London Magazine 1974), August-September, 1974.

D. M. Thomas

[The Knotting Sequence is] rooted in a landscape: the hamlet of Knotting, where [Mr. Booth] lives. The first half of the book explores his feelings towards this landscape through the persona of the hamlet's Anglo-Saxon founder, Cnot….

Cnot is too shadowy a figure, and too limited in metaphor and suggestiveness, to be able to sustain a fairly long sequence with undiminished energy, with the result that some of the poems seem slight affairs; one, for example, is built around a weak pun: "sorrow's/a marriage of/good and/sad he/said …". I am not sorry when Cnot vanishes and Mr. Booth can turn to the living landscape and its seasons, its small births and deaths, and these he describes beautifully, in controlled, strong, haiku-like poems…. [The Knotting Sequence] is a stage in the development of a genuine poet. (p. 66)

D. M. Thomas, in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), January 20, 1978.

Vernon Scannell

Charm is not a quality that Martin Booth's poetry offers nor, I imagine, would he be flattered by any suggestion of its presence there; but … Extending Upon the Kingdom is a vigorous, always interesting collection, and at least half-a-dozen of the poems carry a strong sense of real experience observed with clarity and expressed with force and unwavering truthfulness. (p. 160)

Vernon Scannell, in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), February 10, 1978.

Robert S. Haller

The poems [in The Knotting Sequence] are made up of short lines, reminiscent of haiku …, but the spirit is distinctly Western. A spare diction expresses the mythic consciousness of present-day poets on both sides of the Atlantic, the attempt to find in landscape and daily activities signs of communion with a past still alive and determinate of the present. It would perhaps be more accurate to say that poetry creates the past and brings to life the roots in the ground. The "Guide to the Metaphysical Anatomy of Cnot, son of Kings, Lord and Worshipper" speaks of "winter elms'/shadows cast/by a/full November/moon/the lines/of Cnot's/palms upon/the roadway … no smell/or touch//these few/I'll lend/to you,//forefather Cnot." Such powers as the founder of the village can have are given him by those who see and feel the place as he did.

So brought to life, Cnot's relations with the poet are not always amicable: Booth apologizes (for plantings, trimmings and plowings) and complains (of a twisted lane which still follows a path to avoid Cnot's hovel). And neither Cnot nor his poet settle into a quiet pastoral life: there was bloodshed in Saxon times, and blood shed by hunters in the present. (p. 291)

This dialogue between Cnot and his poet even takes place over the Atlantic. Booth writes to Cnot from New York that he is in "the promised land" where "the houses pile/into the clouds//the cars are/gold and red." Even the sirens weep out sound, and the streets are known to breathe. "ah! says/Cnot, cynic//now tell/me you've/met/god." (p. 292)

Robert S. Haller, "Polishing the Sherds," in Prairie Schooner (© 1978 by University of Nebraska Press; reprinted by permission from Prairie Schooner), Fall, 1978, pp. 291-92.