Sheila E. Murphy and Lewis LaCook: “Accidents of startled symmetry”

Beyond the Bother of Sunlight
Sheila E. Murphy and Lewis LaCook
Buffalo: BlazeVOX, 2011
(cover art: Sheila E. Murphy)


         Sheila E. Murphy is not only one of the most prolific contemporary poets; she’s also one of the most generous collaborators with other poets. Sometimes, collaborating poets engage in a clearly-delineated dialogue and indicate who wrote what, as in Leslie Scalapino and Lyn Hejinian’s Sight. But Murphy’s collaborations with poets such as Douglas Barbour, Charles Alexander, mIEKAL aND, and Peter Ganick tend more or less seamlessly to synthesize their respective contributions so that the textual offspring, so to speak, blends genetic material from both.
         This is the case with Beyond the Bother of Sunlight, Murphy’s most recent collaborative effort, in which she pairs up with Lewis LaCook, who publishes much of his work on his blog, Xanax Pop. Beyond the Bother of Sunlight consists of fifty-two untitled poems, suggesting perhaps one poem for every week of a year, as well as a series exploring related themes. Though their collaborative process is not described, knowing LaCook’s proclivity for digital manipulation of text, it’s possible that this played a part in the compositional method. But whether or not this is the case, there is ample evidence of a very human, joyous, and intelligent shaping of the material. And the result is, to my mind, a smooth blending of their poetics and a serendipitous duet. To borrow their own words, the poetry creates “accidents of startled symmetry,” “birthing fluid children.”
         It’s not surprising that both Murphy and LaCook have musical backgrounds, because reading the poetry is like listening to music whose complexity becomes more apparent as the piece progresses: gradually the listener becomes aware of themes and motifs, and during the course of the composition part of the pleasure is in the recognition of patterns and the recontextualization and development of those melodic fragments.
         The word that comes to mind to describe this intensely musical poetry is relational: Murphy and LaCook bring words from particular realms of signification in relation to one another so that their meaning shifts as, for example, when a words from the semantic fields of spirituality and sexuality are juxtaposed. A bit later, a word with sexual connotations might be set next to a mathematical term. Thus words such as “wafer” and “bless,” “tryst” and “moan,” and “fraction” and “equation” surface in varying contexts throughout the book, suggesting a kind of musical grammar in which words recur within different syntactical and semantic frameworks. Very early into the poems I began to perceive and enjoy the deft interweaving of themes that give the poetry an inner coherence but that also allows it generous room to breathe semantically due to the contextual shifts.
         In the following four passages, taken from different sections of the book, note the recurrent themes of consciousness, sexuality, spirituality, mathematics, language, time, and light/colour:

1)
What if sleep were as translucent as desire?

Desire breaks out of its equation
As mathematics clarify, language amples

2)
The frozen integers lacking this much space
Become a world thus far undocumented

3)
The more I simmer, the more you pave
The more you reverence, the more I stave off
Glyphs tearing into torpor

4)
Only a certain paradise knows
How to pause a shape of color in your sleep

These and other themes are subtly intertwined throughout the book, giving the poetry (to use an analogy other than music) the texture of an intricate fabric woven with colourful threads that create recognizable but shifting patterns. There are sonic patterns, too, as in the assonance created by “lacing gaps” and, later in the same poem, its anagrammatic echo, “lapse of grace.”
         The semantic field of Beyond the Bother of Sunlight is constrained by the vocabulary derived from particular realms of experience and knowledge yet also expansive due to a kind of lexical synesthesia that blends terms from these realms and enriches their experience. The result is poetry in which “language amples” into “a world thus far undocumented.”
         This is a book to which I’ll return to savour its mysteries. To appreciate more fully the beauty of Murphy and LaCook’s collaboration, you should read more than just a couple of poems to experience the sympathetic vibrations of the motifs that surface throughout the book. Nonetheless I’d like to offer two in their entirety, which I hope will entice you to to read more:

4/

Pacing bequeaths to water
What water and the sky do best:
Replenish.
Smile extinguishes all traces of significance.
We motor our way home, inventing machines to carry or to carry us.

Punctuation creeps into our codes, lacing gaps
Into our bodies, bracing pauses
Through which topographies of lingo
Merge, filling the map

That way I’ve got everything flattened
And before me, ready to be folded
Along all the wrong spines,
Awaiting translation in the temporal plain.

But there’s nothing so-so about you.
Only every once in a while in the crackling
That swept over my brain text like viral winds
Swallowing scorched information affords
Fabulous blossoms,
So beautiful, so suspiciously pure, you
Doubt your touch of it.

Purity eventually is traced
To touch. Suspicion twines around
Topographies that embrace
The merging of sweet spines.

A singular fulfillment rescinds the stencil
That reduces bliss to genuflection.
Are we there yet?

A physicality endears itself to lapse of grace
Whose map occurs to us. In time,
A blossom purrs with listening.
We hear in our flesh the tension of it,
The awful urging pulsing breaks.

5/

It was eventually found that the paint
Would pane around the letters in ghost
Plains, and this complicated into
A false sense of depth.

When walking on
The surface her feet sometimes
Slipped through
It was all she could do to keep herself
Balanced, his
Inattention was her fated goal.

It had been a long time since he looked you in the eye.

We’re a conquered people, servants
In our own land. Tranquillizers, accidents
It is forbidden for anyone to open that book
Until physicality becomes religious combustion

I see it as hopeless to try to reason with you
Just in case the flowers didn’t work
He burrowed into the fields of narrativity
Slipping through the confluence of probable branches
Until he walked on translucent panes, interlocking,
Layered. Tranquilizers conquer you. Lovely tranquilizers,
Accidents. It is forbidden for anyone to open that book.

Tranquil is a word. Speech.
Ventilation coughs up
Translucence and transmission.
Changes lock open
The book of wheels, the book of patter, the book
Of a religion
Killing beams no episode at all.
All out of kilter then, the plot’s made simple
And advisement borrows shrapnel of nativity.
Bloom time once crescent shaped is domed
Its wheatened blue comes close to venture
Spawn.


Camille Martin

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