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Irish-Australian poet Lizz Murphy: ‘Place is belonging and writing about place can be a search for belonging’

Lizz has published 14 books and her latest, The Wear of My Face, is her ninth poetry title

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Irish-Australian poet, Lizz Murphy

Irish-Australian poet, Lizz Murphy

The Wear of My Face

The Wear of My Face

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Irish-Australian poet, Lizz Murphy

Lizz writes in a variety of styles from prose poetry to micro poetry, sometimes incorporating found text and image. She has worked in regional arts development, and as a publicist in arts and publishing as well as a regional newspaper editor. The Wear of My Face is a collection of poetry incorporating new or newly developed work and selected poems written over a period of ten years. The style ranges from prose poetry and free verse to micropoems, fragmented and experimental poems and this latest title has been called a ‘politically powerful collection.’

What is important for you in terms of how a reader looks at your poetry – to appreciate its meaning, to enjoy the wording, perhaps both?

A connection. I don’t care what it is — the language, the imagery, the humour, the story of it — if a reader or listener connects with something they like in one of my poems I’m pleased. Delighted. Someone once told me my poetry left space for other people to bring their own stories to it and I thought that was a good thing.

Does growing up in Northern Ireland have any impact on your poetry or writing now?

I think there is often a particular rhythm or perspective that is still working class with a touch of Belfast irony. Also being an immigrant and having an experience of the Troubles has made me feel strong empathy for people impacted by war and displacement, although even as a child I could put myself in other people’s shoes quite readily.

It seems inspiration comes from all around you – are there specific areas that you find most creative encouragement?

Place and displacement and women and girls are recurring themes but so also is the rich Australian countryside and people in general. After living in a rural area for so long I find the suburbs strangely intriguing now. I’ve taken an interest in skies and stars and that threads through The Wear of My Face though I still can’t read the skies very well.

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I sometimes think I write to find solid ground in a story of loss, migration, colonisation and class. For me, place is belonging and writing about place can be a search for belonging – an attempt to understand one’s own displacement or the displacement of others and what that must be like. I left Ireland late 1969 so only experienced the first year of the Troubles, which is nothing compared to those who lived through the whole war. But even here in Australia I still shudder, for example, at the sound of a helicopter overhead. The poem War Zone Tours: I’ll Tell You What It’s Like talks about seeing the Troubles through a migrant’s eyes and international news reporting.

I am distraught at the number of people in the world who are under threat and attack or on the move in search of a safe home. I also think always of the fact that for me to have the place I call home, First Nations people at some time had to be displaced.

My Spinifex Press anthology Wee Girls: Women Writing from an Irish Perspective was probably in part an attempt to feel somehow connected – belonging.

In the book there are women alone with their dread, women too frozen to risk a single word, but there are also celebrations of women whether as poets on a lakebed in Some Things are Orange or artists weaving baskets and glass in A Woman’s Work.

Does lockdown and events of last 18 months help or hinder your work?

The trouble with the pandemic is that it is happening to people on top of whatever life may have already thrown at them. There wasn’t much creative space in my head in 2020 but somehow I brought this manuscript together and — thanks to Spinifex Press and their expertise in 2021, now hold the book in my hands. This year the new waves of stay-at-homes and lockdowns have given me the chance to put my head where my feet are and I am writing the local. Most of my books have a poem or two about where I live but right now I am quite focused on my place. (My latest Covid purchase is a banana chair/sun lounger? What do you call them there? I’m going to lie under the night sky and try to follow the stars.) More place poetry.

What do readers maybe not understand or appreciate about poetry?

People don’t always realise how wide ranging contemporary poetry is in subject, style and voice. If poetry isn’t speaking to you, you just may not have found your match. Keep dipping and reading until you find the poets you can relate to, then be ready to be moved. Those newspapers that still publish poetry play a very important role in this — they deliver poems into the hands of many thousands of people every week and many of them do read them. We need more poetry in more newspapers.

How important is humour in your work?

The world can be full of humour — and so can people. When I sit back and watch them, say in a coffee queue, I just think they are poems on sticks. These quirky observations appear in my writing often and people seem to like it. I like it. I’m highly amused by it — at the time and in the writing of it. Sometimes I juxtapose one incident with another and enjoy laughing at my own jokes.

Has your experience editing a newspaper had any impact on your poetry?

Whether it was my own story, a media release or a community contribution, finding ways to pare a piece back to fit into a limited space or — especially — to be more succinct, was great training for writing poetry where you usually want every word to count.

The Wear of My Face by Lizz Murphy, which was supported by the ACT Government, published by Spinifex Press, £13.95 is available now


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