Patricia Colleen Murphy, Who I Read Before I Write.

7 Mar

Every Monday at noon there is a poem due. This seems like a good thing, at least until Monday morning rolls around. Then, I panic like an undergrad. What is there to write about? Should I write about love? Or death again? No, it feels like a love day.

The reason there is a poem due is because there is a Poetry Group. Every Monday at noon we all log on to Google Docs and we post a new poem, plus comments on the previous week’s poems. My Poetry Group is always kind to me, except when they’re telling the truth. And then they really let me have it. They know all of my bad habits. They say, “Trish, I admire you for trying, but no way!” And I need that because I’ll try anything.

The Poetry Group consists of my roommate from grad school and two other beloved poet friends. We live in Arizona, California, Nebraska, and Michigan. It’s fun to picture them at their respective desks, tapping out their respective poems. How do they address this Monday deadline? California probably writes his poems over the weekend. Nebraska has a toddler, so he probably writes his poem while she’s napping on a weekday afternoon. Michigan, I suspect, writes many more poems than the one due on Monday.

"Where the magic happens. My office owns me."

But here’s what happens in Arizona. First, the cat decides to let me out of bed because my main purpose in life, besides delivering my Monday poem, is to keep her warm. When she decides it’s time, I go downstairs and drink coffee, go for a run, lift weights, eat breakfast. Really, it’s not sounding very literary yet. Next I walk past my office a few times and think about going in. Instead I make the bed, take a shower. It is a slow process, every Monday when the poem is due. But when it’s time, my office owns me.

My Poetry Practice works this way. I write in my journal for a few paragraphs before choosing a book from my bookshelf. Reading? You ask? You are probably dying for me to just write the poem. But first, a book from my bookshelf offers me inspiration. Here are the most recent collections that have helped me write my Monday poem:

1.     Dark Sky Question by Larissa Szporluk
Years ago, when I was a poetry editor at Hayden’s Ferry Review, we got a group of poems by Larissa Szporluk. If you’ve ever been an editor, you are familiar with that moment when one writer, out of the pile, awakens not only your faith in writing but in humankind. That’s what happened to me with Larissa’s submission. Now her books are on my bookshelf to give me more writing juice. Recently the book was Dark Sky Question, the poem “Harness.”

What if the sun sent wind to kill the things
it couldn’t kill itself  . . .

2.     Apparition Hill by Mary Ruefle
I first read Mary Ruefle in The American Poetry Review. After reading her work I thought, “I need to own her books. Now. All of them.” Her poems remind me that poets should never waste words. Recently the book was Apparition Hill, the poem “Failing to Like Him.”

I am no expert. I have never read
The Collected Works of Mr. Permissible.

3.     Blind Huber by Nick Flynn
Are you sick of hearing about my crush on Nick Flynn? Get in line. It started when I got his memoir Another Bullshit Night in Suck City for Christmas. I read it in one sitting and then I read it again. My story is kind of like Nick’s, except it happened 10 years later, and in the Midwest, and his father was my mother. Okay, so my story isn’t exactly like his. But when I read his book it felt like my story, and it felt like the way I wanted to tell my story. Last year when I worked with Nick at the Atlantic Center for the Arts, he noticed all of my bad habits. “Stop being so controlling,” he said about my chapters. How did he figure me out so quickly? He’s so smart. Maybe if I read more of him it will rub off on me. Recently the book was Blind Huber, the poem “Xenophon’s Soldier.”


the ocean, how it carries a fisherman
year after year,

& one day simply pulls him under.

4.     Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems by Beckian Fritz Goldberg
Let me tell you a secret. Beckian was the chair of my MFA thesis committee. She’s a friend and I adore her. And when Beckian reads my poems, she’s all over my bad habits. She likes to say, “Trish, you can’t do that.” And she’s right. I try to sneak things past her but she’s a genius and she won’t take it. When I read Beckian’s work, it makes me feel like my own poem is welling up inside me. As I read, I think, “Beckian just wrote the perfect line,” until I read the next line and I think, “Beckian just wrote the perfect line.” Reading her poems makes me feel like writing poems is not just worthwhile, it’s required. Recently the book was Reliquary Fever: New and Selected Poems, the poem “The Metaphor of Gender.”

In the literal meantime
swing to me my little sexamagig,

you have to believe the stronger
the more tender, you have
to be eaten upon capture like a code.

When the reading is complete, I rush to the computer and start tapping out words. The poem comes quickly, fueled by the writing passion I filch from others. After the poem is finished, I post it to Google Docs. Then I give comments on my Poetry Group’s poems. Then I write some more in my journal—a debriefing of the day’s reading and writing. And that’s my Poetry Practice. Do you have a Poetry Group and/or a Poetry Practice? If so, I’d love to hear about them. I’m always open to new ideas. I still have plenty of bad habits I’m trying hard to break. In the meantime, here’s one of my Monday poems.

Patricia Colleen Murphy teaches creative writing at Arizona State University where she is the founding and managing editor of the online literary magazine Superstition Review. She earned a B.A. in English and French from Miami University and an M.F.A. in creative writing from Arizona State University. Her poems have appeared in many literary journals, including The Iowa Review, Quarterly West and The American Poetry Review. Her poems have received awards from the Associated Writers and Writing Programs, the Academy of American Poets, Glimmer Train Press and The Southern California Review. In 2008 she was awarded an Artist’s Project Grant from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. In 2009 she won the Gulf Coast Prize for her poem “Why I Burned Down Namdaemun Gate.”

One Response to “Patricia Colleen Murphy, Who I Read Before I Write.”

  1. Phalnarith February 3, 2013 at 3:49 am #

    Hey Brain, I’m so sorry. I know it was/is so hard to deal with something like this but it’s relaly great that you’re using your hurt and turning it into poems, it’s truly beautiful. Be strong, you will get through.-Mika

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