The title of my book is Gold Friend. The phrase or image associated with it is derived from an Anglo-Saxon poem The Wanderer which is rooted in elegy and in personal displacement. These are the themes of the book, which I will allude to a bit later on in this short essay.
Gold Friend began, as my books do, from a collection of small themed notebooks. In this case it originally comprised five small books that were loosely thematically related according to how I compose or create the poem image. William Carlos Williams described the poem as a machine,
“poetry is the machine which drives it, pruned to a perfect economy. As in all machines, its movement is intrinsic, undulant, a physical more than a literary character.”
When we view the poem as a machine, the poem image is the engine that drives it. I am very interested in getting to the essential image that drives the poem. So, the eventual arrangement of the book comes from my method of working on themes in separate and related notebooks. The notebooks define the overall movement of a collection and they always develop organically. For example, one small notebook that ended up in Gold Friend was loosely titled ‘Garden Notes’.
I never have a plan or overall idea for a book, and quite often have to wait for themes to emerge and become whatever it is they are striving towards. In some cases, it can take years to finish a book. Some of the poems from Gold Friend were written before my last book bind (Turas Press, 2018) but they did not fit into the themes that I was working with there. Working in this way necessitates a lot of patience and a constant notebook or two carried about my person. ‘Winter Street’ started to emerge when I was on a walk and I had to write it on bits of grocery receipts along the walls of my neighbours,
the black mountains rise up
cities cloud-urban citadels not
the crow clang-tapping a tin post
not the screel and soar of the gull
can prevent it tails of berries
strew the ground littered already
with wasp-hasps wet leaves rain
washed the trees out my body in
its wet and dry calls yours it does
not yearn for you I can snap your
image from my mind at the
crossing where life is
I have thought a lot about the displacement aspect of the book and the identity of the Gold Friend. He, for it is usually a ‘he’, has been variously my deceased brother, an old friend, and another unidentified male. The tone of the book is conversational and it involves dialogue with the absent person. I won’t go too much into the death of my brother, as I never knew him and my family have never located his gravesite. He died in unbaptised infancy and was placed in an unmarked grave as was usual at the time of his birth when stillbirth was not recognised or documented in Ireland. I learned about him because I was born into the traumatic aftermath of his death. It was quite difficult to understand the notion of familial grief at a very young age. For me, Dominic was always present in the grief of my parents, particularly of my mum who spoke about him a lot. The conversations in Gold Friend describe embodiment for the person who is no longer with us and who cannot experience living through the bodily senses,
It held —
Maybe there was no yarn
and you hung the bird-bell
from a delicate thread
beneath scented leaves –
It took their weights,
and they gave you their low
flying wingbright song
Beyond the tone of the Gold Friend and its sense of displacement, run themes on nature and the natural world. When I first met Liz McSkeane about producing a book that would follow the patterning of the five notebooks, she asked me about the central image: the ruined tree in ‘Investigating the root system of a near-fallen tree’. Her question was vital to how the poetry themes would progress or even regress within the book. Liz asked me if the tree survived? A sumac tree in my garden collapsed over a wall, four of its main roots were damaged, two of them beyond repair, and only its taproot was undamaged. The tree survived and has bloomed twice since the awful storm that ripped it from its place. Liz and I viewed the direction of the book as fragile and hopeful. The book begins with a disembodied voice, moving towards the personal voice in the mid-section, and ends with my embodied and very angry new ‘Eve’.
Thanks to Liz McSkeane for ‘getting’ the book, I am sure of her sympathy to the work. Thanks to Lucy Collins for providing support and the blurb, and to Una Lee who is producing a sound poem based on ‘Nocturne For Voices One And Two’ which we are dedicating to our friends who have been bereaved in these times that we live in. I am so glad and proud that we have the book now, and that it will be released in 2020 despite all our present difficulties.
(c) Chris Murray
About Gold Friend:
“At a time of environmental crisis, “Gold Friend” speaks powerfully of the ties that bind our living world. Through the associated figures of the tree and the bird, Chris Murray illuminates the relationship between dependence and freedom, and meditates on the creative necessity for close observation. These oblique poems can suddenly dazzle with their play of substance and light, as they move from the hidden intricacy of root systems, to the beetle’s reflective sheen. As well as bearing witness to the strange beauty of the natural world, these innovative poems testify to the remarkable intensity of human perception. They deserve our closest attention.” Lucy Collins
Order your copy online here.