THE STUTTERING OF WINGS by Sheila E. Murphy
Where to start to talk about Sheila Murphy? I could say she has an
acute intelligence. I could say she has fine ‘eye’ for navigating
the outer reaches of imagination. I could say that trying to ‘understand’
her poetry via the habitual intellectual processes is as good as useless:
only maybe one in ten lines offers any kind
of lucidity. I could say she has a knack for juxtaposing one of these
more lucid phrases against the impenetrable, so that you are caught
off-guard. This has two effects: one is that when you do ‘get’ it
it’s already gone, like the glimpse of a trout in a sunlit river.
The other is that the lucid phrase somehow serves as a laser beam
into the darker matrix, which allows some kind of entry.
So Murphy’s particular art is that of layering, where suddenly the
lifting of a phrase in bas-relief from the underlying strata offers
a reader a kind of illumination, rather like finding a line of coherent
articulated tesserrae, a pattern in a fragmented mosaic, as you do in
line five, below:
filmsquad norturing. Torch
sofa feel in velv
You are the lusional
por emptor pre entrada
for to weigh the use
shushed moon of quilts
this lesson to be tied
Morality is slaved
to how we think less how we view...
[from ‘Por Luxe’]
This kind of risk-taking works, when it does, because Murphy is accomplished
in pacing. It could alienate or irritate a reader – and undoubtedly
it could make some people feel stupid and inadequate, as much Language
poetry does – or it can entice you into sifting through further layers.
But only entry so far and no further is vouchsafed. Try this:
We visited the purview
different from alarm thistles so purely
themselves triune loose
wood propriety conveying sport nose-
rings, give me a refurbished
chastity pratfallen plentiful trisk
hailstone montage planks
on which we bake
It’s not easy poetry, and I don’t like all of it. I certainly can’t
claim to understand it all. But just when I am on the verge of giving
up, something charms me into continuing the hunt. There’s a sense
of undertow in all these pieces which is in its way seductive, drawing
you on to look for the submerged narrative.
The poems which work especially well for me however are the ones where
Murphy makes herself visible – for of course
poetry can be used as a smokescreen. I love the first poem – ‘Civilized,
Perhaps’ – which opens with ‘I have decided to OD on moderation for
awhile’ [I relate to that!]. Throughout this piece she celebrates
both passion and moderation, lust and fasting,
solo and twin; she questions belonging. And the piece concludes with
some of the finest lines in the book:
My heart lives in a
fine community of offerings. And when I
make my bed, it is
with happiness at having dreamed acceptance
dreams lasting a whole
day’s drive to somewhere that has
to whatever i have been and will become.
and on the very heels of having breath sung
into me by every person
I have loved.
Clever positioning, here – partly because it sets
the tone of the book and flags up some of Murphy’s concerns; partly
because in its tender, generous humanness it invites us into her landscape.
And also, for this reader at least, it’s the path towards the open
gate into the dark wood – had I been offered one of the more obscure
pieces I’d probably have turned away, and therefore missed the treasures
which lurk like truffles in the dark moist places.
© Roselle Angwin
The Stuttering of Wings
is available for £9.95, post free, from
Stride, 11 Sylvan Road, Exeter, Devon EX4 6EW