Young in the Night Grass, Tim MurphyThe jacket has a white band across the top, with a black logo for the press, the title and the author's name right justified. The title is small black caps, the name lower case. Below this is a water colour painting of tall grass against a pinky green sky. To the left there is a gold medal symbol (not part of the painting).

Beir Bua Press, 2022    £6.99


When a poet provides an introduction plus notes, it’s worth reading them before starting on the poems. The approach of ‘cut-up’, used here by Murphy in four pieces, is new to me. I could make a guess at what it might involve but a nudge (via the notes) to read up on it first illuminated the whole process and, incidentally, Murphy’s choices.

Briefly — and I owe this to Wikipediaa cut-up technique involves filleting one or more texts: words and lines are then rearranged to create a new work. Occasionally all the words from the original may be used, in an Oulipo-style exercise. More commonly (and, I think, more interestingly) the poet makes a selection. On what basis? The most striking phrases? The ones with visual appeal? There’s no single answer to this. What matters is the creation of a new — and often surreal — text.

Murphy, who was born in Cork, gives his work an Irish dimension by presenting cut-ups from four Irish poets — Wilde, Joyce, Heaney and Yeats. For three of those poets, he’s taken two or three texts and merged them, but for Yeats he uses only one poem: ‘On a Picture of a Black Centaur by Edmund Dulac’.

The cut-up version isn’t a translation of Yeats’ poem into more contemporary idiom. With phrases given a wholly new setting, Murphy creates something entirely different. Yeats’ opening lines run —

Your hooves have stamped at the black margin of the wood,
Even where horrible green parrots call and swing.
My works are all stamped down into the sultry mud.
I knew that horse-play, knew it for a murderous thing.

Murphy’s cut-up poem (‘Sultry Hooves’) lifts an adjective out of Yeats’ text, giving it intriguing prominence. His opening runs —

Murderous parrots eat souls
because of some old mummy’s
full-flavoured horseplay.

The first-person perspective is replaced by an authorial overview and the parrots are more specifically menacing — ‘soul’ is deeper in Yeats’ text. So is is the ‘mummy’ (a type of ancient wheat): Murphy has given it more ambivalence.

Those are only two examples of this poet’s exploration of what can be done within the confines of one piece. Initially I didn’t think cut-up appealed to me. Now I’m not so sure.

D A Prince