Thursday, March 31, 2011

Erin Murphy's "Dear Fringe"

I haven't been overly impressed with the poems at Verse Daily lately, but Erin Murphy's "Dear Fringe" caught me, really for the simple pleasures of its imagery.  My favorite of the lot may be the poem's 4th couplet:
Ropy belly fur
on a river-loving dog.

"Ropy" just seems like the right way to describe that kind of semi-matted, soaked fur found on a long-haired pooch.  I picture a retriever...maybe something in the Benji breed.  I like, too, how "Ropy" acts as both a tactile and visual descriptor, that the rope I see is twine-like and, thus, the color of the dog -- at least in my version of the poem.

Murphy has nice imagery throughout with little extra to mess up the quaint little room "Dear Fringe" occupies.  Every couplet centers on a visual, some of them small-world like "Jangle on a flapper / girl's dress" and "marginal doodles" on a sheet of paper, others large-world like the non-descript, uniform "Grass in the pasture" and "The receiving line."  It's a nice mix of pictures that keeps the eye roving about the poem's landscape, for a brief moment zooming in, then looking away at a greater vista -- and vice versa.  Focus never lingers in any one spot for too long.  This is echoed through Murphy's use of the couplet, which she writes short and sweet, and her clipped phrases, none of which are complete sentences.  They're fragments, as though witnessed out of the corner of the eye but with greater clarity.

The poem utilizes sound well, too.  It begins heavy in the short A, as in "Jangle on a flapper . . . . bangs and lashes," and in S, "girl's dress, yes, but also // her bangs and lashes. / Grass in the pasture // not yet grazed . . ."  Acoustic texture such as this adds layers to the poem and makes it a pleasure to read without necessarily banging me over the head with its craft.  Other lines are more obvious, such as line 6: "Shop talk, small talk."  The double-spondee, the direct repetition of "talk," and the caesura midway through the four-syllable line all draw reader attention.  You can't miss that line.  The poem's last stanza does a similar thing.

In terms of content, I like that this poem pays attention to, well, the fringe -- to things that exist on the cusp of our awareness although they may do so with great, unobserved ubiquity.  I like Murphy's inclusion of the receiving line, too, which for me is a game changer. Until then, I find no common thread for the images -- which is fine but no more.  However, at "The receiving line: // handshake, handshake, / handshake, kiss. . ." I suddenly read a turn in the lyric toward narrative.  Am I at a funeral?  Has the grandmother in stanza 6 passed on?  Could be, could be.  Having been at a number of funerals, some for the closest of family, I know that fringe...of stepping out of your life for awhile at the loss of a loved one, that feeling of holding onto something so small it's held suddenly with a different urgency, a different tightness than before.  Could the previous images be fleeting memories?  Details from photographs?  Simply the mental flotsam of a wandering mind during a trying time?

I don't know for sure.  And that's fine.  I don't need to know the story in order for Murphy's poem to work.  I simply like the fact that the poem's turn makes me wonder about what I've just read.  It doesn't remain just a list of images for me to enjoy, then click past.

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