Irish-Australian poet Lizz Murphy: “Place is belonging and writing about a place can be a search for belonging”
Lizz writes in a variety of styles, from prose poetry to micropoetry, sometimes incorporating found text and images. She has worked in regional arts development, and as an arts and publishing publicist as well as a regional newspaper editor. The Wear of My Face is a collection of poems incorporating new or newly developed works and selected poems written over a ten-year period. The style ranges from prose poetry and free verse to micropoems, fragmented and experimental poems and the latter title has been called a “politically powerful collection”.
What is important to you about the way a reader views your poetry – to appreciate the meaning, to appreciate the wording, maybe both?
A connection. I don’t care what it is – the language, the imagery, the humor, the story – if a reader or listener connects to something they like in one of my poems, I’m happy. Delighted. Someone once told me that my poetry left room for other people to bring in their own stories and I thought that was a good thing.
Does growing up in Northern Ireland have an impact on your poetry or your writing today?
I think there is often a particular rhythm or perspective that is still working-class with a touch of Belfast irony. Being an immigrant as well and having lived through the unrest made me feel a strong empathy for those affected by war and displacement, even though, as a child, I could easily put myself in the shoes of the people. others.
It seems inspiration comes from all around you – are there specific areas where you find the most creative encouragement?
Place and travel, women and girls are recurring themes, but so are the rich Australian countryside and the general population. After living in a rural area for so long, I find the suburb strangely intriguing now. I got interested in the sky and the stars and this is reflected in The Wear of My Face although I still can’t read the sky very well.
Sometimes I think I write to find solid ground in a story of loss, migration, colonization, and class. For me, place is belonging and writing about place can be a search for belonging – an attempt to understand one’s own movement or the movement of others and what that should look like. I left Ireland at the end of 1969 and therefore only experienced the first year of the Troubles, which is nothing compared to those who lived through the war. But even here in Australia, I still shiver, for example, at the sound of a helicopter above my head. The poem War Zone Tours: I’ll Tell You What It’s Like is about seeing the Troubles through the eyes of a migrant and international reporting.
I am overwhelmed by the number of people around the world who are threatened and attacked or who are moving in search of a safe home. I also always think of the fact that in order for me to have the place I call home, First Nations people had to be relocated at some point.
My Spinifex Press Wee Girls Anthology: Women Writing from an Irish Perspective was probably in part an attempt to feel somehow connected – of belonging.
In the book there are lonely women with their terror, women too frozen to risk a single word, but there are also celebrations of women as poets by a lake in Some Things are Orange or artists weaving baskets and glass in A Woman’s Work.
Are the lockdown and the events of the past 18 months helping or hindering your work?
The problem with the pandemic is that it happens to people on top of everything life may have already thrown at them. There wasn’t a lot of creative space in my head in 2020, but somehow I put this manuscript together and, thanks to Spinifex Press and their expertise in 2021, I now hold the book in my hands. This year, the new waves of lockdowns and confinements have given me the chance to put my head where my feet are and I’m writing the local. Most of my books contain a poem or two about where I live, but right now I’m pretty focused on my place. (My latest Covid purchase is a banana chair / lounge chair? What do you call them there? I’m going to lie down under the night sky and try to follow the stars.) More place poetry.
What is it that readers don’t understand or perhaps appreciate about poetry?
People don’t always realize how vast contemporary poetry is in subject, style and voice. If poetry doesn’t speak to you, you just might not have found your partner. Keep diving and reading until you find the poets you can relate to, then be ready to be moved. Newspapers that still publish poetry play a very important role in this – they deliver poems to thousands of people every week and many of them read them. We need more poetry in more newspapers.
How important is humor in your work?
The world can be humorous, and so can people. When I sit down and watch them, say in a cafe queue, I just think they’re poems on sticks. These bizarre observations often appear in my writing and people seem to like them. I like it. I am very amused by this – at the time and in the writing of this one. Sometimes I juxtapose one incident with another and I like to laugh at my own jokes.
Has your experience in writing a journal had an impact on your poetry?
Whether it’s my own story, a press release, or a community contribution, finding ways to shrink a piece so that it fits into a limited space or – most importantly – to be more succinct, was a great training for writing poetry where you usually want every word to count.
Lizz Murphy’s The Wear of My Face, which was supported by the ACT government, published by Spinifex Press, £ 13.95 is available now
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