Tuesday, April 23, 2013

From Behind The Blind By Robert Murphy

From Behind the Blind

By Robert Murphy

Dos Madres Press Inc.


ISBN: 978-1-933675-94-7

62 Pages


Review by Dennis Daly

Religious anthropology and ritual mystery, rare indeed in modern poetry, find expression in From Behind the Blind, an illuminating volume of poems and prose pieces by Robert Murphy. Throughout these writings the poet injects little packets of symbols or allusions, which, in turn, suggest worlds of mythic connections in a revealing, not an obscuring way. It occurred to me that I was reading passages from The Golden Bough by James George Frasier, only in miniature and lyrical forms.

Murphy’s introductory poem entitled Doxology sets the tone with an elegant and soaring hymn of praise. He neatly touches on the pagan god of earthly unity as well as the biblical "I am who am" god. Murphy also introduces the cultural concept of dreamtime, which he elaborates on in subsequent poems. Here’s part of it,

Sleep to wake to dream to hear

the great God Pan at play

upon his pipe, the wind

in the willows quicken where

never harm, nor fear on dread feet comes,

for I am always with you there.

In the poem When the Dark as Night Appears Murphy reinforces his dreamtime realty. This illimitable universe lies just beyond the veil of daylight or wakefulness. Using this interior consciousness we can discover ourselves or perhaps our God. The poet puts it this way,

…As in the daylight

Our eyes cannot see the stars we clearly see at night

Behind a blue otherwise opaque to us.

It is only when the dark as night appears,

Within ourselves the stars the vault of heaven holds

No less than God…

Murphy’s poem At Age Sixty more than touches a chord with me. The speaker, attempting to conserve his youth, dares the outside world to destroy him by his own laborious efforts. In fact he doubles down on his dare seeking oblivion. Reward arrives in the form of a well- earned deep sleep, a sleep that edges him closer to his divinity. Murphy concludes his poem thusly,

… whatever it is that sleeps in me tonight

sleeps dead

certain that his thoughts ring true.

Better ways doubtlessly have been tried,

and quicker too,

but no-one ever slept half so well

in the daily distance of diminishment

between, dear God, the likes of me, and You.

The poet becomes Orion the hunter in the poem entitled The Blind. He has waited out his long day (perhaps his lifetime) behind his blind and emerges or, in this case, descends into his unconscious. The hunter, exhausted, drifts, discovers wonderment here,

And tired, only for a moment

closing his eyes,

is suddenly startled to find

himself awake inside,

outside, Orion,

in a star filled sky, blinking.

The short poem Who Goes There laments the burden and responsibilities of human awareness. There is a bit of Hamlet here. Some men live fully in the outside world, but know that they are actually sentries posted outside a much more elaborate and extensive existence. Action becomes difficult if not impossible. The poet sets up this conundrum,

Where damned if you do

Is damned if you don’t

Is to be doubly damned

When it is only you who knows

That you alone have left your post.

In the poem The Alzheimer House Murphy presents us with a glorious paean to the female sex. It is at once touching in small details (i.e. an elderly woman obsessively stirring her food) and transcendent in its anthropological scope. A mother’s illness has stripped her of specific knowledge, but at the same time an aura of timelessness has enveloped her. She has lost all but the essential woman at her mystical center. The poet references Kali, the Hindu goddess of time and change; Isis, the Egyptian goddess of motherhood and magic; Astarte, a Semitic fertility goddess; as well as Mary, the mother of Christ. He strangely but effectively connects these allusions to Lady Ragnelle, the bride of Sir Gawain of Arthurian legends. Ragnelle championed the empowerment of her gender and rewarded Gawain for his support by transforming herself into a Venus-like beauty. These last six lines of the poem, transforming the multileveled mythic into pathos, are stunning,

Before thought was ever serpent,

Before the apple had earned its bloom.

Before ever Mother Hubbard

Put toe to sock to shoe.

And knew not what to do.

And knew not what to do.

Murphy includes a number of prose narratives in his collection. One such piece entitled Sunday Morning evokes themes of sacrifice and resurrection. Even Lazarus makes an appearance. The universe of abundance within oneself declares its inimitable being through emblematic devices and symbols. At the center of the labyrinth looms Yggdrasil, the densely foliaged and inhabited Norse tree of life. Its structure both proffers stability and threatens destruction. The poet enters the stage with a chain saw. Yes, you heard that right. Consider this description of the tree’s innards,

To look inside the tangle was to look at something impenetrable,

a jungle that could be over topping a buried Mayan ruin with various

kudzus, vines and lianas, inward as much a outward growing, baobab as

much as banyan-like in its span and coverage…

Lest the reader take himself too seriously in following these trails of inner discovery mapped out by Murphy’s muse, the poet presents one part of human duality in the form of an imp. In the poem The Imp as the Imponderable Murphy clears up any confusion about the divine derivation of the imp. The poem begins,

Consider the Imp

that, everywhere, is I Am.

As if he had the ears to hear them by,

finger, nose, and eye,

ten thousand times times ten:

I am! I am! I am!

This remarkable collection by Robert Murphy with its mythic and psychological depth flies in the face of most strains of serious poetry being written today. It’s brave and fresh and permeates with wonder those readers who surrender to this poet’s innovative and measured reflections.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Defiant Brides The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary Era Women And The Radical Men They Married


Defiant Brides
The Untold Story of Two Revolutionary Era
Women And The Radical Men They Married

By Nancy Rubin Stuart

Beacon Press, Boston

ISBN 978-0-8070-0117-2

216 pages

Review by Tom Miller

Peggy Shippen Arnold, wife of notorious traitor Benedict Arnold.  Lucy Flucker Knox, wife of beloved Revolutionary War hero Henry Knox.  Somewhat of an odd couple to include in a joint biography but Nancy Rubin Stuart does so successfully in her book Defiant Brides

I enjoyed this book.  Stuart tells a good story while offering insights into personal lives of characters who had significant influence on events that took place during the War.    
Rather than focus on the labels attached to them by their association to their husbands, Stuart delves into the motivations, actions, personalities and characters of the two women.  By drawing deeply from correspondence and diaries of the ladies and their contemporaries for source material, Stuart develops the texture of their lives.  We see them both as teenagers born to privilege.  We see them marry men whom their families would rather they not.  We see them as devoted to and accordingly supportive of the men they love.  We experience their successes and disappointments as well as their tragedies.  We watch the War exact a terrific cost on each of them in different ways.  We see them grow and evolve into mature women and deal with the loss of their husbands well before their times.

Stuart chooses to tell these biographical stories in the same book because the background of the two ladies is so similar, the time lines match, and while they never met, their husbands did.  Set in a time in which wives and women in general had no legal status other than that bestowed upon them by the fact of their marriage or their relationship to the patriarch of their family – father, brother, husband - in a very patriarchal society, both of these women developed into recognizable and forceful personalities in their own rights.  Both defied their families in choice of mates.  Both bore the burdens of driven husbands whose ambitions carried them away on dangerous and distant missions.  Both learned how to adapt and exert some measure of control over their social environments.

Peggy Arnold we learn is not just the social butterfly we see in other portrayals.  Lucy Knox we find is not just the staid and steady woman behind the man that she is often thought of.  Both are living breathing real people who feel, think, plan, execute and sometimes succeed and sometimes fail.

Stuart’s style is both readable and informative.  The book is well researched and documented.  I think it speaks to both the personalities of the focal characters and to the role of women in general in the Revolutionary War era.

-Tom Miller

***** Tom Miller is a graduate student of History at Salem State University.  He is a retired auto executive, as well as a published poet. He is included in the upcoming Bagel Bard anthology.