The Rush To Here
Nightwood Editions, 2007
At some point in their writing careers, most poets will try their hand at a sonnet or two. There’s almost a sense that in order to be a successful poet one must prove an ability to write a successful sonnet. This is probably a burden self-imposed upon poets due to the enormous weight of The Tradition. For centuries the sonnet has been one of the most standard forms of poetry in English and many masters have developed and added to the form over the years (think of Shakespeare, Donne, Hopkins, Rossetti, St. Vincent Millay, and Cummings to name a few), leaving writers of today with a wealth of building blocks from which to construct their own contributions.
In Murray’s The Rush To Here (Nightwood Editions, 2007), the sonnet, for the most part, appears in a traditional form. It varies between couplet, triplet, and quatrain stanzas and still retains the octave, volta, and sestet components in order to provide a kind of problem-solution or question-answer form. The poems tend to work in a free verse style, but maintain traditional line lengths. Where Murray really begins to depart from tradition, or rather alter tradition, is in his use of rhyme.
As many before him, Murray uses standard rhyme schemes for his sonnets, but the rhymes themselves take on a different element. Traditional rhyme uses sound echoes to signify a line or stanza’s end and, therefore, a change in poetic unit or stitch. Murray uses thought-rhymes (his term). Instead of a word sonically matching with another at the end of a line we find meanings rhyming with meanings. This connotation-link between lines and images at once solidifies a unity in each stanza, but also promotes a strong coherence throughout each poem, both elements very much on the minds of serious poets.
The Dear Water Sings
The weather turns chill, my angry new love,
but there’s a trickle under the snow,
our world shrinking even as it grows. The dear
water sings, Cold, come and go; Come and go, cold.
Let your shoulders down against the wind,
unbuckle your face like a belt after
a holiday dinner, let your arms untwist.
Base your pleasure on what you feel, right now.
My mouth the harp it was always meant to be,
tongue a strong finger plucking the startled air.
She has starved herself down to the ghost,
down to her own disgust, down to the gasp.
Croon even when the air is sucked from your lungs.
Just be ready to speak, and song will come of breath.
This poem well displays the rhyme form and the skill of the crafter. Some rhymes are concrete and work on the physical level (snow/cold, lungs/breath), but we also find more abstract combinations (love/dear, after/right now, be/ghost). This type of writing restriction is one that gives the poet a focus, that narrow vision that often inspires and pushes creativity. It also leaves the poet with more options than a traditional sound rhyme, to which such devices as slant rhyme have tried to bring new breath and flexibility. This flexibility can be used to another advantage: the poet can use the word light with more than one connotation. It can be rhymed with dark to signify an abundance or lack of brightness; rhymed with dawn to signify a time of day; rhymed with heavy to signify weight (both literal and figural), etc. These are examples of some of the rhymes Murray employs throughout The Rush To Here, showing us that rhyme need not be as restricted as one might suppose.
In an age when writers often produce works in the style of their own mentors, merely continuing an already established tradition, George Murray has created something new for poetry that others can add to their repertoires. He has, in a sense, inked his own stamp on form, which, if nothing else, embues poetry with a little more life and opens up realms of creativity for prospective poets.