With seven books of poetry to his name, including, Whiteout and bestseller, Glimpse: Selected Aphorisms, George Murray’s latest, Diversion, challenges poetry’s evolution.
Where ideas once came to him in a line at the liquor store, or waiting in the schoolyard for his kids, even in the late hours, he noticed an internal shift. “I now only come up with ideas when I am in no position to write them down, say, while driving,” says Murray.
“I started paying closer attention as to why, and realized all those other times are taken up now with my phone or email or Facebook or texts or music or watching television. Life is becoming an overwhelming avalanche of channels competing for my senses and brain.”
Diversion is Murray’s response to life’s relentless technological call. In a time of collective stream-of-unconsciousness communication, his latest collection is part poetry, part aphorism.
Besides pings and alerts from his cell phone, there’s the constant cacophony of daily life: radio in the car, office, and malls. Multiple televisions streaming in every bar, advertisements on boards, buses, and cars.
“Wordsworth famously said that poetry is ‘emotion recollected in tranquility,’ but what happens when there is no more tranquility?” says Murray.
“And I don’t just mean finding a moment’s peace from the kids or job in order to write; I couldn’t find a moment’s peace from the everything and anything of what is increasingly becoming a normal life.”
Each poem in Diversion is titled with a hashtag. For example: #DaydreamBereaver, #HookLineAndSinkHer, and #TheGospelAccordingToLuck. Instead of harbouring poetry’s quiet emotions, Diversion harnesses anger, bliss, shame, and awe.
“It’s fragmented, but mostly in a narrative sense,” he says. “The narrative gets created by the overall impression one is left with on reading each piece and the book as a whole. You take away a story, but it’s a story made of a million stories. It’s an idea, an impression, an atmosphere. Maybe it’s an emotion.”
Lines like “It was Elizabeth Bishop in the library with a candlestick,” “In Xanadu did Newton-John a freaky pleather-dome decree,” and “The Collected Dicks of Emily Poeminson,” could revolutionize introduction to literature courses. Murray is calculated, wry, and dark.
Murray, who once ran popular literary blog Book Ninja, has a new online space: NewPoetry. Just over one year old, NewPoetry solicits submissions from poets around the world. He is the editor.
“I curate the selection to try to make it a pleasant experience of reading a poem every Wednesday. And I try to get rid of the poetry ‘business’ markers – photos, bios, links, twitter accounts, etc. Just the poem and author name. Which is what it should really be all about.”
Despite living in St. John’s, Murray doesn’t consider himself a writer of place. He doesn’t think of himself a Canadian or Newfoundland poet anymore than he thinks of himself as a male, white, or straight author.
“I am all these things, and they all undoubtedly have a bearing on my work, but mostly in the immense privilege they afford me. I live in a great house, in a great city, in a beautiful province, in a largely free country. I get the best of everything and it allows me time to think for a living. Or in the case of this book, be distracted from thinking.”