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This review is taken from PN Review 96, Volume 20 Number 4, March - April 1994.

PEREGRINATIONS WILLIAM MARTIN, Marra Familia (Bloodaxe Books) £6.95 pb
JAMES HARPUR,A Vision of Comets(Anvil) £7.95
DUNCAN FORBES, Taking Liberties (Enitharmon) £5.95Pb
ALISTAIR ELLIOT, Turning the Stones (Carcanet) £6.95Pb

William Martin, who belongs more with Vasko Popa, than in this company, is on the third stretch of his peregrination through the iconography of the Northumbrians. Marra Familia is a linguistic adventure to be undertaken, surreal in character, but serene in tone, composed of fragments firmly controlled to make a mosaic of meaning from the range of sources Martin believes are appropriate to apply to the spirit of the North East, even if distant in time and space. The subtitle asks: 'What kingdom without common feasting' and his fear is the disintegration of the community once bound by the comradeship of necessity. The 'marras' - comrades - were miners and fishermen, whose work made sacramental through brotherhood, was celebrated with rituals as gaudy as those of continental Europe. Martin interprets their native religious feeling as a deep need for a Mother God, with fecundity and nurturing as its goals, and a acceptance of sensuality as its characteristic.

Marra Familia is rather like a Mass devised to celebrate the communal life of these people; its liturgy of thirteen song cycles calls out for music (and probably a film-maker) but Martin will have to find a devout Celt to do it, rather than a devout Catholic, for this is not orthodoxy. The first Shard says that 'Easter rain washes away veils' but this uncovers 'The great stone proud with oils'; the Ave Beata is not the Virgin Mary, but the Blessed one, to be found in the pit, and ...


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