by Sheila E. Murphy. 32 pages. 2000. Broken Boulder Press, P.O. Box 172, Lawrence, Kansas, 66044.
Book Review by Michael Basinski
Arbitrariums is a fine initial definition of the poetry of Sheila Murphy because the poems seem to be composed of randomly, arbitrarily selected, phrases ordered, haphazardly perhaps, to look like a poem. However, a close reading of her intuitively chance generated poems reveals that throughout her poetry she, obviously, quite purposely breaks all the rules of poetry as one might understand them. She is among the most anarchistic of poets - abolishing all notions of literary pretence and power and delivering poetry back to its primeval dream state.
Writing phrases like: “Sustainable imaginary forest fires bleed open on deposit.” - or - “Now a song no one has sung as long as anymore is being played is being therefore heard in dittoed restaurants” forces a reader to enter the cosmology of the poem as a participant.
Without narrative structure to limit a reading of Murphy’s poems one encounters meaning rather than having the purpose of a poem dictated by an egocentric author. Meaning is questioned. A reader has the option of discovery. The act of reading poetry by Sheila Murphy allows the reader to enter the state of composition, which means to have a direct and open access to the poem’s creation. In this way a reader becomes one with creator and the material of creation - simply words - and takes part in the naming or granting meaning to constellations of words. Therefore, one way to enter Sheila Murphy’s poetry, which is ubiquitously published all through the small press network, is to enter the poetic act at its origin, rather than at its closure.