Sheila E Murphy’s usual music

Sheila E Murphy Toccatas in the Key of D (Blue Lion Books 2010).

I should declare my interest here: I’m a friend of & collaborator with Sheila E Murphy, & Ive enjoyed her poetry ever since I first came across her wonderfully titled Falling in Love Falling in Love with You Syntax. She’s prolific, too, but always delivers the goods. Toccatas in the Key of D shows off a particular formal turn in her writing, each of the 72 numbered sections carefully left margined with capital letters beginning each line; as well, the syntax here is conservative, carefully punctuated. Yet the actual language plays within & against these constraints as she offers a nifty lyric/anti-lyric take on what I can only call the everyday world the poet confronts in her domestic life. Oddly personal & impersonal at once, these ‘touch pieces’ reach outward in all directions (Murphy’s widely read in so many areas & they all play into the language of these poems) to touch a world of persons, places, & things. They perform their own music, with subtle repeats & a general joy that’s infectious but not naïve. While taking in their music, I found myself thinking of the great domestic interiors of Vermeer & others. See 61, for example:

In a game of double sol-, the royals
Turn up when least needed. Hands slam
Down opportunities. Your desk,
The color mauve reveals crisp numerals.
These plastic and expensive cards smell
Sweet. Last week, I drove upstate
Where there were tapped trees
And tin cans along the road side.
We repeat cycles of change,
Where else but in repetition is discovery?
You lecture at your desk. I learn
To satisfy my curiosity. Only recently,
The world stopped hurting. Replete
With perfect pitch amid imperfect hearing.

I could keep quoting, but will only mention how neatly Murphy segues through a wide variety of tones, the music again, which with a starkly beautiful imagism can be felt in the opening lines of 25, for example: ‘Carvings left by water lose the thought of water. / When autumn sings it is a flute print / Whittling shrill air.’ In 72, she observes that ‘This is my gesture / To meld glass of the observed.’ That will do.

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