For me, my poems serve as a diary. When I look at them I can remember where I was when I got the idea for each one, and what it was that acted as the initial inspiration. The opening poem in my book, Heading North, is called Midnight, July.
The title indicates the when, but not the where and why.
The words for this one came when I was sat in the back garden with a coffee. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and I was looking up at the stars and wondering whether we could be alone or was there life somewhere out there?
We writhe with a rage to know the unknowable, blind to great masses that dance in dark orbits. And a soft, summer wind on a night beneath stars is no balm.
While I was sat there, neck craned in the quiet of the night, the stillness was broken by the sound of somebody passing by the front of the house, their presence announced by their whistle as they went.
From somewhere a whistle casts a line, a fragile camaraderie in a world fell silent, where white moth-wing is riotous and a spider's touch carnal.
That faceless person, whoever it was, initiated the close of this poem. Sometimes we go about life oblivious of the effect we have on others, positive or otherwise. And writers can be voyeuristic vampires, stealing in secret what they need from those around them.
I had half of another poem entitled Old Town. When writing it I had the idea of an American-type run down town in the middle of the desert, with people eking out a life in a place where unknown others lived long before them.
As is their wont, the ancestors speak of nothing, just leave their handprints on rock, drying in shadow. In sterile dust we kick careless trails, tracks opening up in animal minds. In towns we lay our markers down, watering holes within arid charms. The rats have our number, wait us out, sandstorms filling our lungs like egg timers.
I wanted to add a second part to the poem.
Regular readers of City Jackdaw will no doubt know of my love for old photographs. There is one in particular that has featured on my blog a few times before. It bears the legend Mary and her Grandfather Jasper. Around 1900. In many cases we never know who the people are in photographs such as this one, but with this we know enough to give it a personal dimension.
I wanted to somehow include this in my book, and so for the second part of this poem I envisaged somebody using it as a bookmark, reading a Truman Capote book (I had The Grass Harp in mind) while, in contrast to the whole ‘heading north’ theme, thinking of the south where the author came from and set his stories.
On the porch she reads Capote. Turns her face to the south. Her bookmark is an old photograph of an old man; a girl; a dog: 'Mary and her grandfather Jasper, around 1900.' He: sat, stern and saturnine, wearing the dust. She: stood, hand lightly on his shoulder, glaring at the camera, facing down posterity: Not yet. Not yet. The dog is unnamed. The birdcage in the window, empty. In the book there are voices on the wind. Here, just the parched whisper of turned vellum.
Just weeks before Heading North was to be published I went to stay for a few days in Sweden. It being the furthest north I’d ever been I thought it an ideal opportunity to write something as a last minute addition to my collection of poems.
And thus was born Three Poems In Stockholm.
The first poem came about when I was staying on a boat that served as a hostel and I was woken early by the sound of a foghorn. On looking out of the cabin window I was greeted by the unexpected sight of a Stockholm blanketed by thick fog.
Anchored mists hold down the grey waters of Saltsjön. The mournful baritone of a foghorn splinters the hull, grinds the bones, raises us up from our slumbering wooden berth, to climb high above the city's fitful dreams.
I got dressed and went for a walk. Wandering around there was hardly anyone else around: it was a Sunday morning and the shops were still closed, even in this capital city.
I found myself on an empty street, myopic in the cataract effect of the fog. Suddenly a girl came into sight. Perhaps in her twenties, she wore a bright chequered dress, and beneath her arm she carried around half a dozen sunflowers.
The contrast between her and her surroundings struck me, and I immediately knew that this encounter would feature in the poem I was writing.
In Södermalm, shining in a multicoloured, chequered dress, a girl breezes along with an armful of sunflowers, creating a fissure of brightness in the milky gloom, ploughing a passage of light right through to the warm facades of Gamla Stan. Blind to all else, we follow her down.
Although another two Stockholm based poems followed, this is the one that reminds most of my time there. It was that image I can still see now: within a fog-bound scene a flame-haired girl in a bright dress, clutching yellow sunflowers. A centre of colour in a colourless landscape. It was like a painting.
Of course if I’d have approached her and said I was going to write a poem about her I could have been hit with a restraining order or something much more painful.
So somewhere out there, probably still in Stockholm, there is a girl who inspired a poet and is immortalised in a poem that featured in a book.
And she will never know.
I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s kinda sad.
Hi guys, here is a link to my Amazon Author page. Check it out if you get five minutes during this busy Christmas period.
Thanks people, wishing you peace-at least for those five minutes 🙂
In a couple of days, my poetry collection Heading North, (Nordland Publishing), will be a year old. I may celebrate this, even have a little cake and wear a hat.
The blurb reads:
Heading North is a collection of poems arranged in a deliberate order to take us on a journey where we travel from the childhood and youth of summer in the South to the mortality-facing winter of the North. ‘We ride in the wake of glaciers, leaving behind the sunshine straits. North, north, always north, heading into midnight.’
It has garnered some great reviews, all of which I’m thankful for. Here are a couple of excerpts:
‘In short, there is real poetry to be found in this first collection of Murray’s work and a depth of pleasure to be gained from its reading that is all too often only notable by its absence in the work of many of today’s poets. Highly recommended.’
‘Without a question or a doubt, Andrew James Murray’s poetic collection certainly encompasses key elements of geopoetical dimension, and gives the reader a sense of north. His quest took him as high as Orkney. Elegant in places, harsh and chiselled with flair and savagery in others, Heading North is an invitation to beauty. Very much recommended.’
The link for American customers:
And if anyone wants a signed copy, you can get one direct from me, via PayPal. Just leave a comment below.
Well it has to be said that 2016 has been ruthless. Now we have lost the great singer-songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen. I am reminded of the letter that he wrote back in July to his one time muse, Marianne Ihlen, for whom he wrote the songs So Long Marianne and Bird On A Wire, when he heard of her impending death.
‘Well Marianne it’s come to this time when we are really so old and our bodies are falling apart and I think I will follow you very soon. Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.
‘And you know that I’ve always loved you for your beauty and your wisdom, but I don’t need to say anything more about that because you know all about that. But now, I just want to wish you a very good journey. Goodbye old friend. Endless love, see you down the road.’
Now they take up the journey again together. R.I.P to one of the great artists of our time.
Pumpkin a hollowed out, rictus grin placed prominently at this liminal time a curious crossroads of old and new with but a cursory nod to the peaceful host frail shelter from this Samhain storm a rail of russet leaves and borne the broken limbs of oak and scorned a single flame, faltering. ©Andrew James Murray
I had so much that I intended to do today, but in the midst of such busyness and bluster, as Kahlil Gibran put it:
I meant to do my work today but,a brown bird sang in the apple tree..