Cork poet Gerry Murphy wins US award

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Poet and former Cork lifeguard Gerry Murphy has won the Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Prize for Poetry. Worth $5,000 (€4,600), the prize honors outstanding Irish poets. It is named after a former lecturer, administrator and benefactor of the University of St Thomas (in Minnesota) who helped establish the university’s Center for Irish Studies.

Murphy (69), who has had a few minor medical procedures in recent years, including surgery on gallstones, is a philosopher when it comes to aging. He says that at his age he learned “to take things as they come”.

A spiritual anarchist

Described by the late poet John Montague as “a spiritual anarchist”, Murphy, known for his acerbic satirical poetry as well as his love poetry, noticed he was writing more about family these days. One of three siblings, Murphy’s mother died when he was eleven and his father died when he was eighteen.

“When you write a family poem, it triggers a whole slew of them,” he says. Murphy has published eight collections of poetry and has three collections of selected works in translation.

He retired from his 39-year job as a lifeguard and pool manager at Mayfield Leisure Complex which is attached to Mayfield Community School at the end of 2019. Murphy goes swimming there once a week as part of his routine that sees him getting up at 6 a.m. every morning. and go for a run and lunch most days at Farmgate in the English Market.

Collette Nolan, artist, and Gerry Murphy, poet, in front of an entrance to the English market. Photo Denis Minihane.

Productive retirement

He says he has become more productive in writing since retiring. “But writing has never been based on routine. Something has to come to mind before I write a poem. It can be something I read, or something I see on the street. Or an idea comes to mind.”

While politics is a recurring theme in her poetry, Murphy says her favorite works are her love poems. “They’re memory-based now.” An old romantic, Murphy admits he sacrificed the idea of ​​settling down with a life partner because of his art.

“The poet’s life makes you obsessed with yourself. It wouldn’t be fair if someone else had to put up with that. I’ve had two long relationships. People instinctively knew it wasn’t going to be a thing. long term. They knew I wasn’t going to stick around.”

Poet Gerry Murphy was described by the late poet John Montague as "a spiritual anarchist.
Poet Gerry Murphy was described by the late poet John Montague as “a spiritual anarchist”.

Aosdana member Murphy was inspired to write poetry by a teacher, George O’Sullivan, at Northern Monastery. He started his professional life by digging roads with a shovel and a pickaxe. His former swimming coach offered him a job at the Mayfield Leisure Center in 1980. “It was perfect for the writing.”

Normally, Lawrence O’Shaughnessy Award winners travel to the University of St Thomas for a week to give lectures. But because of the pandemic, “it’s in the air. 2020 winner Ailbhe Ní Ghearbhuigh and last year’s winner Dermot Bolger were unable to travel to Minnesota due to Covid. We are now talking about academics coming to do an awards ceremony with the three of us in Dublin.”

my dad dries my hair

I washed my hair and am drying it absent-mindedly near the fire.

“Dry it properly,”

orders my father behind his newspaper.

I make a half-hearted attempt but soon fall into an ineffective dab at its dripping extremities.

Finally, as usual, he takes the towel and dries it vigorously.

My head, gently held in the busy socket of his hands, rocked in sleepy delight.

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