If Murray successfully translates fourteenth-century Italian poetry into present-day Newfoundland, he likewise telegraphs local vernacular as vital element of lyric tradition, whether in the sing-song rhymes ofSong for a Memory(The old men are proud of their jukebox picks, / Humming in time where the words come unfixed) or the philosophical familiarity ofSt. John’s(Your future could lean in that door and you / might not recognize it as anything / but the next in another series of nows). The collection’s twoLigaturepoems—Ligature ( )andLigature (&)—succinctly articulate Murray’s poetic in Whiteout (a condition during which sea, sky, and land have no discernible lines of demarcation). Signalling the poet’s fealty to linguistic marks and sounds, these poems employ ligature as metaphorical conjunction of two bodies come together assomething resembling an usthat just mightmake a shape of life.
Good news for Whiteout: it’s been shortlisted for the EJ Pratt Poetry Prize through the Atlantic Book Awards. This is my third nomination in row for this prize, with both Glimpse and The Rush to Here being previously nominated in 2011 and 2009 respectively. Whiteout is up against some stiff competition, however, in the form of Mark Callanan’s excellent book Gift Horse, and Don McKay’s star power with Paradoxides.
You should buy all three and compare. Wish me luck. Third time’s either a charm or bridesmaid for life!
My partner, Elisabeth de Mariaffi, is also a writer, but of fiction. Here we are being interviewed as a literary couple for the Atlantic book blog The Book Fridge. It’s kind of a neat idea, asking the halves of a couple the same questions. There are a few other artistic pairings out there I’d like to hear from in this way.
Poet and editor Don Share has tagged me in a self-interview meme wherein you answer a few questions about your upcoming book or book-in-progress. I almost never do theses sorts of things, but I do have a few books in the mental oven, so I thought it might be a good exercise to try this out. I’d been debating whether to write about my ill-fated-in-that-it’s-taking-forever novel or the kids book I have coming next year or the next book of aphorisms, but given that Don’s a poet, I’m going to go with that last option.
What is the working title of the book?
Grace Notes (this is VERY much a “working” title… the book is years away)
Where did the idea come from for the book?
When I wrote my first book of aphorisms, Glimpse, I took my notes out of about 10 years of journals; the little bits and pieces that hadn’t been used and were hiding between the notes that became poems. After I whittled those down, I found myself writing new aphorisms specifically for that book, and I’ve never really stopped. I’m at about 200 now, and once I have about 300 good ones, I think I’ll be ready.
What genre does your book fall under?
That’s a good question. Aphorisms straddle the line between philosophy and poetry, showing elements of, and claiming heritage from, each. There are those out there who think aphorisms constitute prose, but I most commonly refer to them as “poems without all the poetry getting in the way”.
What actors would you choose to play the part of your characters in a movie rendition?
How I wish this were applicable. But I generally think Brad Pitt should play me, on account of how similar we look.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book?
This is a collection of distilled poetic essences, ranging from the witty to the strange to the profound.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of the manuscript?
It’s still ongoing, and given the nature of the pieces–being drawn from many years worth of journals–there is no set length. Each book of aphorisms took as long as my life currently was/is.
Who or what inspired you to write this book?
I started collecting my aphorisms because when I read at Princeton the American aphorist James Richardson had noted a tendency toward the aphoristic line in my previous books, and suggested that poke around in my journals to see if I had missing aphorisms there. Then the Irish poet Paul Durcan spoke favourably of them after a reading I did in Dublin, and he suggested I should publish them as a volume. Once Glimpse came out, I was shocked at how well it was received and how well it sold. Most poets would kill to sell half a print run of their book, and here is Glimpse ripping through the prints. Anyway, since I am still writing the aphorisms, seemed like a no-brainer to do another book, so long as it can match the quality of the first one.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?
The first book, Glimpse, was called “the book of poetry most like to appear under a Canadian Christmas tree” because it’s quite popular with non-poetry people as well. Who’d have guessed?
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?
ECW is my publisher, if that’s what this means. Poets don’t have agents. Unless we’re talking about real estate or wine.
Make up a question you think is pressing in way of poetry today.
Why everybody gotta be hatin’ all the time?
I have a Word Power column in the back of the new Reader’s Digest (Feb 2013). Subject: Video Gaming. It’s a sort of vocabulary game wherein I provide you with a term and three possible definitions, and you need to figure out which is right. Last one I did was on “Poetry”. This one should be harder, and might set a few regular RD readers on edge, at least until they ask their kids/grandkids for help. There’s no link online, that I know of, but here’s a link to the main Reader’s Digest page for the print issue. There’s another one coming up this spring, on “coffee culture”. Fun stuff.
The Telegram, St. John’s daily newspaper, name checks yours truly and Whiteout in its year-end roundup. Thanks again to Chad Pelley, a big supporter of my work.
To conclude, I’ll point out that, numerically speaking, 2012 has been a year of poetry for our province. Normally we see works of fiction and non-fiction rolling out of here by the barrel, but this year it’s been a steady supply of poetry, and among them, new works from two of my favourite poets: “Whiteout” by George Murray, and “Perfection,” by Patrick Warner. Both poets tackle the sorts of fleeting thoughts we all have, but they have a gifted knack for making the potency of a fleeting thought or observation explode with meaning. You needn’t be a poetry scholar to enjoy their work.
Whiteout has made the end-of-year roundups at two venues: Salty Ink and The National Post. Salty Ink has been a longtime supporter of the book and my work, and that support is essential and appreciated. But having the National Post’s poetry columnist Michael Lista say Whiteout flew a little too much under the radar for his taste is awfully surprising and nice.
From Salty Ink:
“As expected, Whiteout offers Murray’s prophet-like insight into humanity alongside calculated diction that leaves no word out of place and no poem one line too long. And if what I’m saying is bordering on hyperbole, go Google reviews of his work — there’s an uncommon authenticity in peoples’ praise of the poignancy of his work. He has an uncanny knack for metaphorically rich writing that captures all the hidden meaning and truth a fleeting moment can hold — in a way that never feels like poetry so much as a well-worded moment of revelation any of us could have, if we had his words and patience to craft them. There’s something unique about his poems, and more importantly, something powerful that stirs readers, poem after poem after poem.” – Chad Pelley
From National Post:
“I think this is Murray’s best book. It’s short, lean and long-gestating, and the poems sport a lightly worn formality that feels organic, never decorative. Some of the poems are a decade old, and so the collection — which ranges geographically from an ash-covered New York on Sept. 11 to a snowed-under present-day St. John’s — feels expertly rehearsed and crash-tested. But even though Whiteout is a long time coming, I think it came too hot on the heels of his last book, which was published two years ago. But it’s definitely worthy of wider attention.” – Michael Lista