Love, Politics and Intertextuality in the Poetry of Gerry Murphy

Article excerpt

Gerry Murphy was born in Cork in 1952. He studied English literature at University College Cork under the tutoring presence of John Montague and Professor Sean Lucy. Under the inspiration of Montague, there was a resurgence of literary activity in Cork. Murphy belongs to this thriving community of artists which emerged around Montague, a community defined by Thomas Dillon Redshaw (2000: 7) as "that remarkable generation" of writers which also includes Gregory O'Donoghue, Theo Dorgan, Maurice Riordan, Thomas McCarthy, Greg Delanty and Sean Dunne, among others. (1) Indeed, in his memoir The Pear is Ripe (2007: 217), Montague acknowledges the artistic vibrancy he experienced with all these poets he met soon after he settled in Cork in the early 1970s.

Murphy's first collection of poetry, A Small Fat Boy Walking Backwards, appeared in 1985 (The Commons Press) and this was followed by an incessant literary activity: Rio de la Plata and All That (1993), The Empty Quarter (1995), Extracts from the Lost Log Book of Christopher Columbus (1999), Torso of an Ex-Girlfriend (2002), and My Flirtation with International Socialism (2010), all published by Dedalus Press. His poetry frequently appears in literary journals and anthologies. (2) In 2005, Murphy published his own translations of the Polish poet Katarzyna Borun-Jagodzinska, a book that "remains one of the star volumes of that Capital of Culture series from the Munster Literary Centre" (McCarthy 2010). End of Part One: New and Selected Poems received critical acclaim when it was released in 2006. In 2008, Murphy's poetry was adapted for musicians and actors by Crazy Dog Audio Theatre. This stage adaptation by American playwright Roger Gregg, entitled The People's Republic of Gerry Murphy, met popular success and run for several consecutive evenings at the Cork Guinness Jazz Festival.

After almost three decades writing poetry, Gerry Murphy has attained a place as one of the most popular, idiosyncratic and unconventional contemporary Irish poets. His voice is certainly unique in Irish poetry, as regards the content, form and tone of his poems. There is sarcasm and a defiant rebellion in his work, which distinguishes it from the poetry by most of his contemporaries in Ireland. This "extraordinary juggler of conflicts", as poet Thomas McCarthy (2010) defines him, has indeed provoked controversy in some circles. One funny anecdote of his many literary performances includes his reading of "A Note on the Demise of Communism" in front of the Dean and 600 Chinese students in Fudan University (Shangai), and the troubling expectancy this event arose before finding out that it was just a love poem after all. As John Montague (2006: i) puts it in the foreword of his Selected Works, "what makes Murphy unique [...] is his curious integrity, the way he has created an aesthetic out of nearly nothing, ex nihilo".

The purpose of this paper is to provide an introductory critical perspective on Gerry Murphy, a poet "inexplicably under-rated" in contemporary discussions of Irish poetry (Dorgan 2010), in spite of his status as "[i]ndisputably the doyen of the post-Galvin Cork generations" (McCarthy 2010). First, I discuss the cluster of themes which dominate his work, by particularly focusing on the predominant sensual eroticism and the awkward, almost uneasy, interplay of love and politics observed in much of his poetry. Other elements of analysis include Murphy's frequent use of dramatic monologue, his literary influences, the stylistic variety of his work, and the use of sarcasm as a very powerful means of exerting criticism. This paper is followed by a translation into Spanish of some of his most representative poems, in the hope of contributing to the increasing international visibility of a poetry which, in recent years, has also been translated into French, Italian, Flemish, Hindi and Chinese. (3)

Murphy's collections of poetry tend to move and rotate around a common axis: love. …