Poetry Pamphlet Reviews & Features

Run by HappenStance Press

Kissing Maura O’Keeffe, Gerry MurphyThe jacket is a warm purply red. All text is centred. The title is in huge lower case letters, one word per line. It occupies most of half the cover, and the colour is a pale version of the underlying purple. Below this 'Poems' in very small italics. Beneath this the author's name in a more elegant seriffed font, in white. At the bottom the publisher's logo, which is a white circle sitting in a tiny V shape.

Southword Editions, 2019   €6 (within Republic of Ireland), €8 (shipped internationally)

In praise of kissing

The late John Montague wrote of Gerry Murphy’s technical poetic achievement in terms of ‘multum in parvo’ (‘much in little’). Montague observed that Murphy had ‘[adapted] the classical epigram to his little city-state’, the ‘city-state’ in question being Murphy’s native city of Cork.

Most of the kissing and love-making that dominates this pamphlet takes place in and around Ireland’s second city. By the third poem (‘Long Valley Revisited’), possibly to the chagrin of the eponymous Maura O’Keeffe, the poet is ‘kissing Mary Mahoney’ in Cork city centre. In another poem in that same location (‘Rush Hour’) the kissing continues despite the pedestrian light favouring the poet’s paramour; and in ‘Matins’ there are ‘urgent kisses’ in a Cork city flat.

In ‘Further Out’, the poet wakes to kisses that make him think Cork’s River Lee has somehow appropriated the Seine’s Left Bank; and in ‘Ballynoe Haiku’ the poet’s kisses are ‘like bees / in your honey-coloured hair / sweetly mistaken’.

Some smooching is located more exotically. In ‘Morning in Cefalù’ the poet kisses his beloved awake — but when the kissing takes place in undisclosed locations, there are often hints of Cork. In ‘That First Kiss’, for example, university sweethearts share ‘a precarious kiss’ under a university’s ‘looming tower’; and in ‘Long Summer Afternoon’, the wind sprinkles rain like a ‘blind cartographer / mapping [the poet’s lover] with kisses’.

Inevitably, of course, it’s not all fun and games. In ‘My Flirtation with International Socialism’ there are the ‘elaborate spins’ that are ‘subsequently applied’ to a brief affair. In ‘A Note on the Demise of Communism’ we read of the ‘imperious nod’ of a ‘Capitalist ex-girlfriend’. And when we encounter the kissing of Maura O’Keeffe in the title poem, it’s not on a bed of roses but rather in ‘a wing-mirror dream’ and ‘somewhere over the rainbow my bollocks’.

Ultimately, though, this chapbook’s homage to the romance of kissing will leave many readers with the happy desire to engage in some osculation themselves.

Tim Murphy