When poetry is a curse and a gift

Aidan Murphy mines the events of his life, good and bad, for his poetry, writes Colette Sheridan.

When poetry is a curse and a gift

"Poetry is both a curse and a gift. But even when it’s a curse, it’s something I keep being drawn back to,” says Aidan Murphy. The Corkman has a poem in a new anthology of 100 Irish poets, The Deep Heart’s Core, edited by Eugene O’Connell and Pat Boran. Each poet revisits a favourite poem of their own, with a commentary on its inspiration.

Murphy’s chosen poem is ‘Touching Parallels’, which is about communication and appeared in his first collection, The Restless Factor, in 1985.

Brought up in Turner’s Cross, Cork, Murphy says he was scribbling from the age of 12. “I enjoyed sitting in the back kitchen, making up stories and drawing. I was a very solitary person, absorbed in reading.”

Aged 65 and now based in Dublin, Murphy spent two years working in the reading room of the then Cork Examiner. He briefly considered a career in journalism, but became caught up in poetry.

“I love the idea of condensing something into a short space. It always seemed to me to be a brilliant technique. It kind of concentrates the mind.”

Murphy’s most recent collection, The Wrong Side of Town, was published in 2015, by Dedalus. “Its theme is a man battling various demons and trying to lift himself above his depressive state.”

Murphy has no qualms about saying that his poetry is autobiographical. He was on medication for depression, having resisted it for fear of losing his creativity. But when he read William Styron’s book, Darkness Visible, he became less afraid of medication and found it helpful.

A dark period in Murphy’s life, in London, was triggered by his use of amphetamines (speed).

“That was the beginning of the end for me. I got very attached to it and was trying to keep it secret. I started using it at first to write at night, and then to get the kids out in the morning.

"I used it sparingly, just as a booster, but, of course, it’s a terrible drug, a bastard of a drug. It gives you false confidence and drags you down a bloody alleyway. It sickened me, really. In the end, I was ashamed of myself.”

When Murphy was married, he and his now ex-wife lived in a school turned squat for three years. But after returning from a sojourn in Europe, they discovered their home had been taken over by someone else.

“We had no legal rights. The locks had been changed. My son was only two at the time and we ended up in a hostel for the homeless in Paddington, which was absolutely horrifying. After that, we moved to another unit for the homeless, in Victoria, which was a bit better. Eventually, we got a council flat. That went well for a while, but the stuff I was on didn’t do me any good. My marriage ended around 1987.”

These days, Murphy lives and writes in Dublin. He is still a big reader, citing Eiléan Ní Chuilleanáin and Matthew Sweeney as favourite poets.

While Murphy mines his life for material, he likes to disguise the subject matter. “I’ve written poems about my two children and poems about loss... There are a few poems I’ve written which come from being in bars. Bars are great for socialising, but it’s another ballgame when you get too caught up in them.”

  • The Deep Heart’s Core will be launched by poet Bernard O’Donoghue at Cork City Library on April 19 as part of Cork World Book Festival

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