It’s not very often you can come across a poetry book these days that paddles in pools of horrifying and beautiful imagery and sits upon your brain like a pecking bird, darting memorable images and words all day and all night long, this is how I can only describe the brilliant poems that flood Stephen Murray’s debut collection House of Bees.
While attending the 2012 Over the Edge Poetry book Showcase in Galway in search of new poets and books to read and in my discovery found two great poets like Pete Mullineax and Fiona Clark Echlin, Murray happened to be there to read from his collection. I had previously read this collection but had never heard any of the poems read out loud. Murray began to read all together his trilogy of poems ‘Son of a Goat part 1/2/3‘ at fast pace and with great delivery, craft, rhythm, and humor, the poem stuck in my head for the night, the beat and feel of it driving sounds like an immaculate raging bull, leaving me no choice but to read and reread his debut collection.
In all, there are 54 excellent poems. The topics (a sort of abstract self-portrait say’s Murray himself) range from time spent in a children’s home, and time spent with his mother and sister in an Erin Pizzey home for battered wives, to love poems with a crazy touch of magic realism Murray style, to poems on traveling either in Ireland, Prague, Vienna, the range is wide yet as intimate and touching as a hard slap to the face with a dose of the reality of living.
Murray’s poetry basically bring us on a journey of his life. The second poem ‘Footprints‘ is astonishingly beautiful and clever, a poem about the birth of himself and then sister and the journey they shall embark on beside their mother into a world of challenges. From there, as the poems come along, you enter a world of domestic and child abuse (The poem ‘Childhood‘ will send shivers down your spine), poetry on growing up with out a father, as in the savage poem ‘Memoirs of Woman’s Aid‘ the poet recollects the breaking up of his family, and as a child growing up in Erin Pizzey’s Woman’s Aid, disturbing, chilling and beautiful at the same time, poetry written with precise skillful craftsmanship.
Murray’s poetry has a fine range of attributes that even the most poetry hater would find hard to dislike. The poems are skillfully mastered with striking images, sometimes surreal (check out the hilarious and horrifying take on Fairytales in the poem ‘The Looking Glass‘) and vivid, the lyric of his words are a tantalizing delicious baritone of sounds and the slant rhyming just perfect.
In the hearth-pounding horrific poem ‘Tammy: Love in a Children’s Home‘ Murray recollects about the time in a children’s home and an encounter with a 13 year old girl who comes to his room at night and rouses sexual feelings upon him, yet Tammy is a victim of child abuse by men and the poem projects images that slap the head and pound the heart with sadness ‘Then she spoke about men and the back seats of cars as she opened my window and unclipped the stars‘ amazing surreal imagery ‘Oh for young Tammy who was only thirteen with a body to cry for and a face that would launch a thousand fists‘ these clear and dramatic images in this poem will not leave your mind for the day.
Though Murray’s poetry aims to shock but not intentionally, the poems bring you in to a world you know exists yet prefer to keep at a distance. Yet, in this collection, not all the poems take on such hard edged topics. In-fact, my favourite poem in the book and to me, Murray at his best, his true and purest poetry is the poem ‘Naked In Vienna‘ just an astounding well-crafted mouthwatering poem about two friends ( the other been the brilliant poet Neil McCarthy) jumping naked in to the Danube river.
The imagery and sound of the poem is just perfect ‘One day we fell into that black place where peach sunset melted like a golden tear/welling up in the black eyelid of the Viennese horizon‘ This poem is one of the reasons why I read poetry, why I love it, and Murray right here gives me hope in contemporary poetry that the beauty and importance of mystic imagery is still alive and as brilliant as ever.
All in all I highly recommend this poetry book to everyone as a book that needs to be read and reread. I also recommend, well more of a tip, upon reading this book, when you have finished and got your breath back, find the two rip-roaring poems ‘Son of a Goat‘ and ‘Chronic Anxiety Jazz Solo’ and reread them, placing the parts together to get the full effect of each poem and the brilliance and enjoyment you can get from each when read as one.
House of Bees, as a debut poetry book is one of the best you will ever read and can only find yourself wondering and anticipating what Mr Stephen Murray will bring out next and in what shape and madman form will these poems scream and shout from the pages for you the reader to enjoy.
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About The Author:
Stephen Murray was born in Ireland in 1974 and moved to London in 1975. His formative years were spent living with his mother and sister in Erin Pizzey’s historic shelter for battered wives in West London. As a teenager, whilst living in a children’s home, he was twice a runner-up in the WHSmith and Observer Young Writer of the Year Awards. In 2005 he was crowned Cuirt Grand Slam Champion. He has performed his work as guest reader at many of the World’s most famous poetry venues. He currently lives and writes in Galway where he works as director of Inspireland, teaching poetry and creative writing to young people across the country.