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Segue 9: Fall 2010  ||  Rich Murphy


about the author


Rich Murphy has taught writing and literature for 24 years at Bradford College, Emmanuel College and now at Virginia Commonwealth University. His second collection of poems, Voyeur, was the 2008 Gival Press Poetry Award winner. Other credits include a book of poems, The Apple in the Monkey Tree, the chapbooks Great Grandfather, Family Secret, Phoems for Mobile Vices, and Hunting and Pecking, and poems and essays in hundreds of journals and refereed journals, including Reconfigurations: A Journal for Poetics Poetry / Literature and Culture and Journal of Ecocriticism. He lives in Marblehead, Massachusetts.


about the work


Each one of the poems was written with the concept that each of the thinkers had in mind (Nietzsche, Freud, and Sartre), and then I attempted to apply it in some way to today’s world, responding to the thinker’s idea. My recent poems have responded to poets, fiction writers, and thinkers so that I could compile a collection of poems that allowed me to correspond with these people. I have titled the collection “Stolen Goods.” I see each poem in the collection as a palimpsest, or a séance of sorts, or my entering conversations of culture. The challenge for me was to try to push beyond my understanding of their works to add my thinking on each of their ideas. I was pleased to merely allow a contemporary understanding, or suggestion of tone to stand in for many of my replies in the correspondence.

“Just Outside the Pied Cow” for instance is a response to Nietzsche’s introduction to Thus Spoke Zarathustra. The reader is introduced to how one becomes a child as an adult or becomes what Nietzsche called the “cosmic dancer.” The cosmic dancer has taken on his/her load as a camel might (as heavy as that may be), has become a lion to conquer the desert, and then has slain a dragon of “thou shall nots.” The idea is that the cosmic dancer knows the ‘how’ of living with the rules and roles placed upon him/her by society and knows how and when to play with and even break the rules for his/her own purposes of creating.

“The Cities in One Place” is responding to Freud’s idea that cities are layers of archeology before they are buried, that cities are many cities within the most current one. In his book Civilization and Its Discontents, Freud writes “Let us, by flight of imagination, suppose that Rome is…a psychical entity with a similarly long and copious past—and entity, that is to say, in which nothing that has once come into existence will have passed away and all the earlier phases of development continue to exist alongside the latest one.” Here he explains that cities may be palimpsests also: a city rewriting itself. The word implies an unconscious communication or deliberate re-writing across time. The passage spooked me for decades. This idea was of interest to me because cities then become much like the palimpsest in writing. That idea pleases me because it also shows its relation to the shared language idea in contemporary thought.

“The Existentialist's Judgment Day” uses Sartre’s “bad faith” guide post as one might Moses’ idea of bad faith in a contemporary neighborhood. Recognizing one’s total freedom seems an absurd responsibility to the everyday citizen busy making money and attempting to follow faithfully a religion’s rules. However, There are no excuses for Sartre for whom freedom is a responsibility—not a hooray word but a boo-woo word. The most difficult part of writing these poems is finding the metaphor that I can turn into irony. The “bad faith” idea was easy to write about as soon as I connected it with organized religion. When I see the possibilities of irony through the connection, I usually have little trouble writing.

While writing poetry that “echoes” and “corresponds” with earlier and contemporary writers and thinkers, I approach writing poetry sensitive to metaphors that can be turned into ironic language that might be used. From there I take the language seriously so that the writer might have “fun” with it. Ironist poems drive concrete surfaces to address oblique possibility’s express ways, giving direction to the distant relations to call attention to lost relations and family resemblances.


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