by Carrie Murphy
Keyhole Press, 2012
ISBN 9780615619279, 57 pp., $9.99
While Carrie Murphy's collection of poetry Pretty Tilt is dedicated to "the girls I grew up with," the boys get equal billing in her bold, second poetry collection. At its center, the book's young narrator is sandstone as different boys breeze by, shaping her into a woman. Murphy's free verse poems consider these almost-men, and at the same time, focus on the girl they have left behind, as none of them remain. This duality can be seen in titles such as "Screaming & Not Screaming" or the lines "the pregnancy scare & the non-pregnancy scare/ the small hips or the widened ones" from "For Samantha in the Mirror." Throughout the collection, Murphy's effectively wrought contradictions capture the uncertain movement from childhood to young adulthood with poignancy.
In her strongest moments, Murphy channels Susan Minot, best known for her collections "Poems 4 A.M." and "Lust." There is a particular brand of anxiety that accompanies becoming an adult, and Murphy highlights it literally in titles like "Anxious #32" or her use of anaphora in poems like "The Real World." She writes, "This is the true story of a cheek pressed up against/ a shag carpet in a finished basement.//This is the true story of how you said um Retin-A is not a lubricant/ & got out of the car// This is the true story of your burn, or how you thought I look/ prettier when I'm tired.//" The mantra-blind repetition of "this is the true story" makes it clear that our narrator has yet to actually find the truth.
Murphy is not afraid of being explicit, and I desperately found myself wishing I were in some of her workshops to hear scholarly discourse on phrases like "Cheetah-quick/at sucking dick" which kicks so perfectly in "Hausfrau." Her use of the vulgar is deeply memorable and works most of the time. That said, I found myself most struck by the moments where Murphy could have delved into the explicit but demurred: the best example being her poem "Forsythia" on the molestation of a child. Murphy shows incredible restraint and omits the perfect spoonful of information to leave the reader with a wrenching, elusive emptiness that hovers like a small ghost, haunting the poem. After seeing this kind of control, I found myself wishing for it in poems like "Tequila?" with its overexposed "& I put an orifice on every boy".
On the less-successful side, Murphy's "Riding in Cars with Boys" poems feel like the vestigial tail of some last collection (or perhaps a very early version of this one) that she's evolved beyond. Interspersed throughout the book to give an obvious bloodline, the RICWB poems often don't feel weighty or tight enough to fill the privileged position she's allowed them. The themes of the collection: growing up, sex, control and disappointment already give a deep sense of belonging to Murphy's poems as a whole without any artificial construction. Similarly, her affection for the ampersand gets old. Perhaps poet Alfred Corn said it best on having to read the symbol in verse: "It sparks a cognitive blip, which I immediately get past, but I'd actually rather not have to go through the process."
Overall, Murphy's collection about growth and young adulthood champions her poetic dexterity and ear for sound, building to its powerful, final crescendo in the aptly titled "Blooms." Just as our bodies grow from children's into adults', our emotions too are "busting out, blossoming/ up, blooming./ Kaboom." And the reverberations from that final pop can be felt long after finishing Murphy's collection. A solid second effort that will make readers feel the gray intimacy of shame and laugh out loud.—Alexa McMahon