This collection is not for those who seek light reading or any form of reassurance. Opening with a poem not listed in the contents, Stephen Murray immediately throws us into a cuttingly real and tumultuous world. Murray cleaves open his world with an honesty that is almost chilling; he invites us into a past littered with dark memories and uncertainty, leading us through his life and painting horrific images of a childhood gone astray. We might struggle throughout to detach ourselves from or to believe the horrors on the page, an indecisiveness that Murray plays on exceptionally well.
Occasionally, Murray introduces flickerings of contained joy, such as in the poem “Sleepy”. If anything, this makes the bitterness of some of his other works, particularly “The Bottle in the Cupboard”, that much harder to ingest. His flexibility and command of rhythm is admirable; he moves fluently between tight rhyme and looser structures, but his real talent lies in the handling of his subject matter. His poetry takes in prostitution, alcoholism and abuse, shocking us with both his black humour and
his flagrant honesty. Yet even when penning a poem to a disgruntled worker (Bootleg Generation), he embodies the optimism of a child that is tinged with adult cynicism
In “Bootleg Generation”, Murray writes eloquently about the frustration and monotony of unsatisfactory work: “Your marketing communications literature, being neither art, sport or pornography means nothing to me.”At first glance, this poem appears out of keeping with the rest of the collection. This shift away the recollection of childhood memories hints at a seriousness of feeling towards art, and inspite his listing of other questionable hobbies. Murray seems to be admitting to a certain pride in his work, suggesting a transformative value in the ‘art’ of his poetry. However, this could
also be construed as problematic given that his subject matter relies on the horrors of his
Murray’s poetry draws on a number of characters. We meet regularly the figure of his mother and her lover, but others from his past such as ‘Tammy’ also feature. The latter appears in two separate poems: one surrounded by Murray’s younger memories, and the other grounded in adulthood. The portrayal of Tammy in both marks the growth of the poet himself, and it becomes clear that the poems in the volume follow a chronological narrative. He returns not only to characters, but also to his thoughts and memories.
onic Anxiety Jazz Solo”, split into four parts, develops the theme of instability , with the narrator questioning both his conscious and subconscious self. In truth The whole collection centres around this indecisiveness – about what is real and what is false. Murray opens his House of Bees with “Curtains Up”and ends with “Curtains Closed” – the reader becomes the audience, and is forced to engage with the poems on a very personal level, set out as they are on a metaphorical stage. It is the feeling of uncertainty, mixed with the consistently harrowing subject matter, which induces ongoing discomfort and anxiety in the reader.
Despite being a rather heady emotional mix, this
collection is an absolute must read. The images and feelings conjured by Murray are quite incredible, and I doubt that anyone could ever read these poems to exhaustion.