The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University

The Reflector

    Award-winning poet reads from latest work, discusses impact of poetry on life

    Visiting the MSU campus this week is poet Jim Murphy, who’ll be reading from his award-winning chapbook “The Memphis Sun” this Thursday in the Union Small Auditorium.
    Murphy is a professor at Alabama’s University of Montevallo. His poems have appeared in “Brooklyn Review,” “Gulf Coast,” “The Southern Review,” “Tri-Quarterly” and other journals, and “The Memphis Sun” earned Murphy the 1998 Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Award.
    Prior to the author’s arrival at the MSU campus, I had the chance to ask Murphy a few questions about himself and his writing. Here’s what he had to say:
    Gabe Smith: When did you start to write, and why?
    Murphy: I started writing what I thought were poems in around the eighth grade. Really these were watered down Jim Morrison-esque lyrics, with about the same motivation in mind: to seem somehow interesting to the smarter girls in my class. I don’t think it worked all that well.
    Smith: What inspired you to write then, and now?
    Murphy: Music was an early inspiration, and has been a constant one since. Trying to articulate something like the moods of A Love Supreme, for instance, was the initial serious engagement I could make. Since then, it’s involved the history and cultural context of the music as much as the original source …. Only very recently have I gotten comfortable with the more typically “personal” lyric poem. It takes a lot of reserve and control to write a poem with that lyrical “I” driving it. It’s a huge responsibility that I just wasn’t up to until recent years.
    Smith: Travel and escape come up a lot on your poems. Could you talk for a moment about the need for travel and the uniquely American sense of restlessness that comes through in lines like “Her hands were cupped around a tune about another town”?
    Murphy: There’s something inherently appealing, I think, in the dream of “lighting out to the territory.” One of the great American myths is that you can always start over. Maybe it was true in the days before mass media and the Internet, the cell phone, etc. No matter how wonderful your life might be, there’s a fantasy about hitting the road that kicks in from time to time. This might be a universal thing, but so many American writers have made it one of their great themes-Whitman, Hart Crane, Kerouac, James Wright and on down the line.
    That particular line tries to crystallize those desires in an image, pulling on a harmonica or a microphone denotatively, but connotatively suggesting the urge to move, or maybe the necessity to move, so often found in the blues.
    Smith: While your poetry is sober and unsympathetic, it is also quietly hopeful. One character’s revelation that “the monotony of breath itself is music” turns a negative into a positive, and much of your work seems pointed toward an idea of humanity as a brotherhood, a begrudging “we’re all in this together, so let’s make the best of it.” Your thoughts?
    Murphy: I think you’ve hit the nail on the head regarding what positions are tenable when it comes to trying to write about history, culture, and what’s been referred to as “race.” In a postmodern age, it’s impossible to come off as wholeheartedly expansive and ecstatic as Walt Whitman, and even he, the most optimistic of all poets, had his darker side. I don’t know if unity is exactly what I’m interested in, but rather openness. The world presents so much beautifully conflicting evidence, so much dissonance, so much static. I like the idea of beauty in a muffled lyric, a distorted chord-which is all there is, when you get down to contemporary theories of reading and writing. But rather than throwing up my hands, I guess I’d rather engage, however muddy it gets.
    Smith: Finally, any advice to young writers or writers just starting out?
    Murphy: Probably the most practical advice I could offer is this: Never deny yourself a lesson. As a writer, each and every thing that presents itself to you, in and out of the classroom, affords a lesson. The best ones will confound and confuse you for years; there’ll be no exam on them, and you won’t be able to come to final conclusions on them. But these are the things that will become your great subjects, and never, ever believe that you’ve exhausted them. No one’s done it yet.
    Jim Murphy will be reading from “The Memphis Sun” this Thursday evening, Oct. 28 at 8 p.m. in The Union Small Auditorium. The reading is being sponsored by the English department, the Robert Holland Reading Series and the Creative Writing Enhancement Fund. Books will be for sale after the reading.

    Leave a Comment
    Donate to The Reflector

    Your donation will support the student journalists of Mississippi State University. Your contribution will allow us to purchase equipment and cover our annual website hosting costs.

    More to Discover
    Donate to The Reflector

    Comments (0)

    All The Reflector Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    Activate Search
    The Student Newspaper of Mississippi State University
    Award-winning poet reads from latest work, discusses impact of poetry on life