Gerry Murphy at 70: Cork poet looks back on his milestones  

One of the highlights of Cork International Poetry Festival should be the event to mark the 70th birthday of the city's much-loved poet 
Gerry Murphy at 70: Cork poet looks back on his milestones  

Gerry Murphy marks his 70th birthday as part of Cork International Poetry Festival. 

The Teacher Who Inspired me:

George O'Sullivan, who taught me in the North Mon, loved English poetry and it rubbed off on some of us. In collaboration with two classmates, we used to write adaptations of the poems on the curriculum to the amusement of the class and Mr O'Sullivan. He kind of turned us on to what was on the syllabus. I'm still reading essays by William Hazlitt. But I was lazy at school. My Leaving Cert wasn't exactly starry. I just managed to get through.

The First Poem I Really Loved:

There Was a Boy by William Wordsworth. I read it first at the age of twelve. George O'Sullivan was very good at giving us the background of poems. It's a lyrical evocation of someone dying young and the effect it has on his family and friends. The boy was interested in nature and he'd be mimicking the owls as he walked around. It's a very moving poem. At the end of the poem, the poet is standing at the grave. You don't expect the death of the young guy, taken from his friends.

My Favourite Poet of All Time:

Probably Yeats. He has it all and he kept writing at a supreme level even on his deathbed. All through his life, his poetry was very strong. He didn't fade away and all the poems are equally interesting including his response to 1916. You could say Heaney was at times as good. But Yeats was the fountainhead. He was very well-read. You could almost pick any subject and he'd have something to say about it.

My Job as a Lifeguard (at Mayfield Leisure and Sports Centre):

It never taxed my limited intellectual capacity and left me with plenty of time to devote to the muse and provided plenty of material to boot. I was there for 39 years. Talking to Sean Lucy (the late academic and poet), he said it was one of the perfect jobs for a poet because you're not distracted by having to be a teacher preparing classes. And I was inspired to write Short Jazz Piece by a woman at the pool who was extremely good-looking and shapely. It's sexy, not sexist, although I suppose the male gaze would come into it.

Gerry Murphy in 2009 with theatre director Roger Gregg. Picture: James Brophy.
Gerry Murphy in 2009 with theatre director Roger Gregg. Picture: James Brophy.

Most Influential Book I Read:

The selected poems of Vladimir Mayakovsky. I picked it up in London and it blew my mind open. It was so far from my usual reading and gave me permission to write 'at the top of my voice' [the title of one of Mayakovsky's poems]. He was a very revolutionary Russian poet. Some poetry can be very understated. This poet could upset people and wake them up. It's in-your-face poetry. My writing at the time was very political and satirical. But love poetry is as important to me as anything else.

The Current State of Poetry In Ireland:

It's particularly healthy at present. It's great to see so many young women joining the ranks and giving the 'male, pale and stale' a run for their money. There are a lot of younger women poets such as Leanne O'Sullivan, Molly Twomey and Ailbhe Ni Ghearbhuigh. There are also the likes of Doireann Ní Ghríofa and Victoria Kennefick. 

Poetry was very male-dominated. Think of the way Eavan Boland was treated when she was writing first. She wrote about the domestic scene and people were saying 'where's the poetry in that?' But things changed incrementally with women such as Paula Meehan, Eiléan Ni Chuilleanáin and Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill who've been feted as equally as men.

Best Advice I Got from Another Poet:

Sean Lucy said people won't recognise where my poetry is coming from for a long time but they'll eventually come around to it, so keep going. Sean knew stuff and was very encouraging. He'd say I was coming from a completely different background to the others. While I read Yeats and all that, I also read Eastern Europeans who had a completely different slant, in-your-face poetry. People weren't used to it and said it wasn't poetry.

On Being Elected to Aosdana in 2017:

Financially, it's a huge boost to the coffers. The cnuas (stipend) is about €20,000 per annum and you can earn maybe another €20,000 tax-free. I have the State pension and a small pension from work. I'd be put to the pin of my collar if I was just depending on my pension, especially with rent to pay. Having a steady income as an artist makes it much easier to live, to exist. And it's recognition from peers, a great boost to the ego.

  • On Thursday, May 19, at Cork City Library, friends of Gerry Murphy -  including actor Jack Healy, academic Katherine O'Donnell and poet Liz O'Donoghue will read their favourite poems by the Cork scribe.

Cork International Poetry Festival: Other highlights (May 18-21)

  •  John F Deane and James Harpur, May 21, Cork Arts Theatre: John F Deane is the founder of Poetry Ireland whose most recent collection of poems is Naming of the Bones. James Harpur's latest poetry book, The Examined Life is an odyssey through boarding school.
  •  Maram al-Masri, May 20, Cork City Library: From Syria and living in Paris, al-Masri is considered one of the most captivating feminine voices of her generation and her work has been translated into eight languages.

Maram al-Masri is considered one of the most captivating feminine voices of her generation
Maram al-Masri is considered one of the most captivating feminine voices of her generation

  • Ciaran O'Driscoll and Adam Wyeth, May 19, Cork City Library: O'Driscoll has published ten books of poetry. He has also written a childhood memoir and a novel. Wyeth's latest book, about:blank was selected by the Abbey Theatre to be developed into an audio-immersive production which premiered at last year's Dublin Theatre Festival.

  •  Thomas McCarthy in conversation with Professor Clíona Ní Riordáin from the Sorbonne Nouvelle, May 18, Cork Arts Theatre: The Waterford-born poet's most recent publication is his prose book, Memory and the Party in which he writes about literary life in Cork and Waterford as well as the literary scene at UCC when he was a student there in the 1970s.

Thomas McCarthy in conversation with Professor Clíona Ní Riordáin will be on May 18 at the Cork Arts Theatre. Picture: Denis Minihane.
Thomas McCarthy in conversation with Professor Clíona Ní Riordáin will be on May 18 at the Cork Arts Theatre. Picture: Denis Minihane.

  •  Afric McGlinchey and Dairena Ní Chinnéide, May 18, Cork City Library: West Cork-based McGlinchey's most recent publication is Tied to The Wind, a hybrid childhood memoir. Ní Chinnéide is a bilingual poet and a former TV producer and journalist.
  • www.corkpoetryfest.net

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