In her poetry, Nancy Murphy comes to terms with relationships.
A marriage fails. A mother dies. An only child goes off to college. A father’s health is failing. No one ever said life was easy, and we all seem to spend considerable time making sense of our lives and especially our relationships with loved ones and friends.
It’s what poet Nancy Murphy does in The Space Carved by the Sharpness of Your Absence, her first poetry collection. She describes loss, separation, grief, and pain; the measure of those emotions can be seen in the title, “the sharpness of your absence.” You might think loss dulls with time, but Murphy reminds us that many things can suddenly make the loss piercingly real all over again.
The poems exhibit a spareness; Murphy says just enough and no more. They also display a bare-bones honesty; she understands that failure in relationships is rarely one-sided. In “Betty, Poolside,” she tells a friend that she left her husband “because / he would not swim naked with me / in the dark in the pool behind / the fence at our house.” It’s a surprising reason, perhaps, but her words, like so many of her poems, imply far more than what they say.
Several of the poems are about Murphy’s mother, whom she lost relatively young, right after her own daughter was born. The poems about her mother and her father deal with memory and even identification. It may be a truism, but as we age, we see more and more of our parents in us.
Field of View
I am a stretched canvas. My mother’s
yearning background color. Dress dusty
pink the color of my first ballet slippers,
hair putting up a fight. Thin black belt around
my nickel of a waist, it takes me years
to become a body. A girl even longer.
The field is everything to me. The way sunlight
wakes up the colors, the way the hint
of a road slices space into before
and after, the way home keeps moving
away. Collapsing onto the grass,
oblivious to how it can stain you,
mark you as a child. When do we start
seeing the world as wide than we can
hold? I paint myself away from the edges
of the picture, on another coast, different
weather. I pint the story of my mother
and what she wanted. I remember when
she gazed on me, and when she gazed not
on me. I carry hollowness into the rain.
Based in Los Angeles, Murphy has published poems in the Gyroscope Review, SWWIM Every Day, The Baltimore Review, The South Carolina Review, Stoneboat Literary Journal, The Ekphrastic Review, and several other magazines and literary journals. She also serves a mentor for teens as a long-term volunteer at WriteGirl. She’s also written for and performed in solo shows such as the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Murphy grew up in New York and received a B.A. degree in American Studies from Union College in Schenectady, New York.
The Space Carved by the Sharpness of Your Absence tells us much about our own relationships, reminding us of what we’ve lost and what we’ve retained. There’s conflict here, but there’s also resolution and acceptance.
How to Read a Poem uses images like the mouse, the hive, the switch (from the Billy Collins poem)—to guide readers into new ways of understanding poems. Anthology included.
“I require all our incoming poetry students—in the MFA I direct—to buy and read this book.”
—Jeanetta Calhoun Mish
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- Poets and Poems: Nancy Murphy and “The Space Carved by the Sharpness of Your Absence” - January 13, 2023