Acapulco by Nicholas Murray (Melos – April, 2012)
It’s been over 30 years since Nicholas Murray’s first poem was published in the TLS and Acapulco, published this year by Melos Press, has all the hallmarks of that distillation. The poems have had all the time in the world to settle down and become themselves. One couldn’t imagine them any other way.
‘How you anticipate our love of the minimal,’ opens ‘Bedroom’ a poem about the Hammershoi painting. The poet speaks of the subversive pull of the unspoken. The poem is a clear metaphor for the transformative powers of poetry and indeed works like a coda for the whole Acapulco collection, which is a model of the succinct, haunted by the unsaid:
your silence grows in us,
expands like rising dough
until we reach the street
and find ourselves, altered
in an exalted elsewhere.
There are many of these quiet revolutions, a handful of words that ignite on the page—free verse honed to perfection in ‘Der Führer’ and the tremendous ‘Obol’ about Murray’s schoolmaster father. One of my favorite poems is set like many of these poems in Greece and it examines the etymological root of the word sycophant:
The word’s from those whose fingers slyly pointed out
the lifters of fresh figs from private orchards
within a couple of lines we are brought slap bang into the present day Kalavrita:
…hot Sunday crush
hears Sika Freska! Sika Freska!
Our fingers point to where the fresh figs are.
But there are formal poems too. Murray is at home with rhymed couplets and the impressive ‘Get Real!’ a political broadside marking the formation of the present Coalition Government. Funny, acerbic and never once flagging for its sustained twenty-seven stanzas while managing to keep them within the confines of Auden’s version of the demanding Burns or Scottish Stanza—a remarkable feat in itself.
Less is always more when it comes to love poems because hasn’t it all been said so many times before? Murray’s love poems are deeply touching as his signature compressed light touch wryly marks the sadness of time passing while ‘honour[ing] the years’. ‘I have reached middle age,’ the poet says in one of the quatrains in ‘Fourfuls’, ‘the gate between two fields.’ The poems come out of that space, clear-eyed and considered.
The best poems to my mind are the shortest, Murray has a gift for selecting a handful of words that create a scene that stamps itself indelibly on the readers mind, whether it is the men who ‘hung like languid postilions…their thick boots on the metal rung, wasps homing in’ in ‘What Thought Did’ or the sycophants pointing at the figs or the reserved lovers, compressing their excitement at the ‘round red table’ in ‘Honfleur’.
Al Alvarez in his essay, ‘Finding a Voice’ states that, ‘Prose is never quite finished…’ whereas ‘…Poems are as intricate as the giant locks on a bank vault: each one of the dozen tumblers has to click into place before the door will swing open’. All the tumblers seem to click into place when the door of Acapulco swings open.