Jim Murphy, professor of English at the University of Montevallo, has recently published his third collection of poetry. The collection, titled “The Uniform House,” contains several dozen poems written by Murphy since the publication of his previous book, “Heaven Overland.”
When asked about the theme or themes that ran throughout the collection, Murphy noted several different factors at play. “. . . the passage of time being a large concern, how that unfolds across cities, musical traditions, human relationships to the land and to each other. It’s a much more geographically-centered collection than any I’ve written.” This geographical fixation is found in pieces like “Sun Stylus, Montgomery” which name drops not only the Alabama state capital but also the state of Kansas.
In addition to geography, Murphy also emphasizes historical narratives in many of his poems. Speaking on the role of history for a writer, Murphy says “You can take any historical setting or event and alter the point of view on it for great effect.”
The first poem in the collection, “The Uniform House of Dixie,” from which the book receives its name, is one such example of this historical adaptation at work. “It’s set in Birmingham in the 1930’s, and at the end there’s a reference to ‘the coming wars.’ From the vantage point of the 21st Century, we know there were several to come, and several victories to be won,” Murphy says of the poem.
When asked about his influences, Murphy was quick to give one name before any others. “Walt Whitman remains a huge influence, and difficult one. He’s so damn loud, it’s hard to get his tunes out of your head! I guess I’m somewhere way up in the branches from that main stem he planted so many years ago,” said Murphy of the 19th-century poet.
In addition to this American master, Murphy also cited writers like Yusef Komunyakaa and Robert Pinsky as influences. “Both of them have very strong senses of history and geography, and are jazz men. And that music means a lot to me, whether it’s in notes or in lines of poems,” Murphy said of the two poets.
Indeed, if there is anything that can be labeled as truly integral to Murphy’s poetry, it is music, specifically jazz. “There’s no way I can put on Miles Davis or John Coltrane and not be inspired to at least think well, to improvise, to find once more that sense of adventure that’s at the core of making art. When you listen to ‘Kind of Blue’ or ‘A Love Supreme’, you hear the stars aligning for those players in real time. You hear the suggestion and also the expression of genius, as one riff builds into and off of another,” said Murphy of the music that inspires him.
Copies of the collection can be found in town at Eclipse Coffee and Books. On Tuesday Oct. 14, at 3:30 pm, Murphy will read from his new collection in the J.A. Brown room in Carmichael Library. The following day, Murphy will sign copies of his new book at the coffee shop starting at 3:30 p.m.