A Tribute to Mairtín Crawford

The Arts Council's Damian Smyth remembers the vibrant poet

The Arts Council of Northern Ireland learned with deep regret of the death in hospital in Belfast of the poet and writer Mairtín Crawford on Sunday, January 11, 2004.

Crawford was a significant figure among the younger generation of writers in Northern Ireland and his importance was marked last year by the granting of an Arts Council award of £10,000 towards his work as writer-in-residence at the Crescent Arts Centre in Belfast.

Mairtín Crawford was educated at Rathmore Grammar School, south Belfast, and the Queen’s University of Belfast where he gained a bachelor of arts in English and Scholastic Philosophy. In 1991 he completed a masters in Irish Writing, focusing on the work of WB Yeats, Derek Mahon and Paul Muldoon.

Crawford became a full time professional writer whose work spanned all aspects of the art journalism, screen writing, criticism, editing, teaching, festivals, readings and filmmaking.

In the early 1990s he was a key player in the influential group of poets gathered around Giro’s Poetry Collective and was, up to his death, editor of the long running radical poetry journal The Big Spoon. From 1995 until 2002 he was production editor of Fortnight magazine, also managing the artistic and cultural content of the publication.

His eight years as a part time creative writing tutor at the Crescent Arts Centre, developing new talent and providing outlets for publication and readings, led to what many regarded as the most promising period of his career.

Then as a full time writer-in-residence at the Crescent, he engaged with new writers systematically, professionally and with his customary good nature, bringing to his task the sense of mission that characterised his creative life and focusing on special needs groups including people with disabilities and mental health illnesses.

In the same period, Crawford became director of the Between the Lines Festival of Literature, a post to which, it was widely felt, he would bring a new and forceful alternative energy in a forum uniquely suited to his talents. Having forged a friendship with the great poet Allen Ginsberg, he succeeded in bringing that monument to American eclecticism to the Crescent Arts Centre for two memorable readings in 1993.

Crawford’s preoccupation with the idea of ‘America’ was fuelled by his frequent research visits to the US and found expression in the wide range of friendships he maintained across the Atlantic. It also provided a special bond between himself and fellow poet Padraic Fiacc. Fiacc’s anarchic voice, with a firm, underlying grasp of poetic form, found an echo in Crawford’s own work and personality.

In 2001, Crawford was awarded an Individual Artists’ Award to travel to the United States and meet with NASA personnel to research a book of poetry dealing with the concept and implications of space flight. Poems on this theme appeared in journals and magazines and were aired at readings at home and abroad.

Mairtín Crawford’s very many friends and colleagues in the world of the arts and poetry especially will greatly miss his distinctive perceptions into everyday life.

By Damian Smyth, Literature and Language Arts Officer, ACNI.

The following poem by Mairtín Crawford is reproduced with kind permission of Florence Crawford and Naomi Foyle.

Life on Mars

If you looked through the world’s most powerful telescope,
one like the Hubble, that can see as far away as Pluto and
even thousands of light years beyond that
what you might see are the fragments of aeons drifting away into dust,
the detritus of billions of years of explosions and fission.

If you were to cast your eye back over the centuries—
remembering millennia are a purely human notion—
would you see things run backwards and empires build themselves
up again. What way would time travel?

If you were to ask me if there was life on Mars I’d point to Mariner, Voyager
and NASA experiments including spouting glowing ammonia into a vacuum chamber
trying to build the ultimate thruster to take us there.

Then I’d recite the names of the oceans, hills and valleys of Mars:
Ortygia, Moab, Oxus, Arabia, Cerberus, Memnonia, Hellas,
Electris, Cyclopia, Amazonis, Thoth, Utopia, Elysium