House of Bees
Page Count: 100
Publication Date: Friday, April 15, 2011
Cover Artwork: Roisin Coyle - www.roisincoyle.com
About this Book
“If you are in Hell, or intend going there, take this book with you as a charm. The devils down there will fear you and know you as one of their own.” Dave Lordan
“House of Bees announces the arrival of a brilliant and unique voice into the realm of contemporary Irish poetry. A beautiful, terrifying and moving debut that wastes no time in bringing the reader on a Dantesque descent into the macabre; the gushing imagery and fluidity in dealing with such themes as domestic abuse, mental health, love and addiction trajecting Stephen Murray through his own nine circles of hell. Shocking yet charming, cogent but humble, House of Bees is poetry at its merciless best.” Neil McCarthy
Stephen Murray was born in Ireland in 1974 and moved to London in 1975. His formative years were spent living with his mother and sister in Erin Pizzey’s historic shelter for battered wives in West London. As a teenager, whilst living in a children’s home, he was twice a runner-up in the W.H. Smith Young Writer of the Year Awards. In 2005 he was crowned Cúirt Grand Slam Champion. He has performed his work as guest reader at many of the World’s most famous poetry venues. He currently lives and writes in Galway where he works as director of Inspireland, teaching poetry and creative writing to young people across the country. House of Bees is his debut collection.
Read a sample from this book
Review: House of Bees reviewed by Grace Wells for Poetry Ireland Review 104 (October 2011)
Yet we forgive Murray these trespasses because the book’s true core is a gathering of unsurpassed autobiographical poems that sear the flesh. In ‘Footprints’, Murray reveals the bleak childhood crucible where he and his sister became ‘two tiny prints’ that ‘wandered off on their own / seemed to fall to the ground then get back up / then fall to the ground and get back up’. It’s a sentiment echoed in ‘Childhood’ where:
Murray explores his material in a variety of different ways, some more successful than others. In ‘House of Bees’, ‘A Love Letter for The Queen of Wasps’ and ‘The Drone That Got Away’, Murray dives deep into a landscape of personal myth and bee metaphor that is quite difficult to follow. In ‘The Looking Glass’, characters from children’s literature seem to be gratuitously imprisoned within a hellish adult world, where among other things, the Mad Hatter brings Alice ‘dead flowers / then rapes her for hours’. A number of poems like ‘An Irish Thing’ and ‘A Christmas Poem for A’ help maintain a sense of menace, but rather straggle along without really pulling their weight. In ‘Chronic Anxiety Jazz Solo’, numbers one to four, Murray takes a cue straight from Dave Lordan’s ‘The Methods of the Enlightenment’ and offers up a few of those state- of-the-art, rambling stream of conscious diatribes that some people think can be published under the title of poetry.
There are other children in this world, children that appear in ‘Memoirs of Woman’s Aid’, children the ‘divorce courts refused / invincible, brazen and highly amused by our accents’. And children like Tammy, ‘braless and brainless and breathless and only thirteen’, (from ‘Tammy: Love in a Children’s Home’), who has no choice but to grow up to become ‘Tammy on the Footbridge’:
Though Tammy is caught in the grip of addiction, she at least has fared better than the ‘you’ addressed in ‘Adagio for Screams’ who is
Murray can’t save these children and the adults they become, but his words, his plain speech, and his gift of tongues, catch them and offer a form of appalling redemption. And Murray knows that sometimes that’s the only kind of redemption there is.
The book is held together by the excellent poem series ‘Son of a Goat...’ Parts 1-3, a distilled novel that moves through the different phases of Murray’s life, so that by Part 2, toward the centre of the collection, the narrator has ‘Pulled plastic bags over my own skull, filled them with puke and tears / Felt needles in my arms, found a treasure hunt of little brown bottles / with my very own name on them’. Towards the end of the book, in the fantastic ‘Son of a Goat... Part 3’, Murray meets a girl, takes the black bag off his head, and settles down, only to recreate his earlier nightmares. There’s such wisdom and honesty here that it’s impossible not to be entirely seduced. This is stunning poetry; it descends the dark fathoms only to pull us up airless, offering small flashes of surface grace before we’re hauled back down for more.
Murray has a dramatist’s discipline; he creates the maximum impact with the minimum words. Chiefly he employs a sparse, documentary style reminiscent of Raymond Carver and Charles Bukowski. Yet many of his poems are lit with a lyrical dynamism entirely Murray’s own. House of Bees proves Stephan Murray a writer of extraordinary powers, who, with this material off his chest, could go on to do anything – though it will be hard for him to match the impact of what is achieved here.
Interview: Stephen Murray - from battered wives’ home to a House of Bees. Interview by Charlie McBride for The Galway Advertiser. April 14th, 2011.
Pic:- Mike Shaughnessy
THIS SUNDAY at the Druid Lane Theatre, Salmon Publishing will launch House of Bees, the striking debut collection of poetry by Galway based writer Stephen Murray. Born in Dublin and raised in London, Murray has had a remarkable life, the details of which he draws on in many of his vivid, arresting poems. His early years were spent with his mother and sister in an Erin Pizzey home for battered wives.
In his poem ‘Memoir of Woman’s Aid’ he writes: “I remember it all in super 8 vision/My very first book and my father’s last look/I remember little or nothing of the rat that shared a cradle/with my baby sister, suckling on her bottle as she slept/in the derelict Palm Court hotel where we sheltered/with the battered wives of Erin Pizzey’s Woman’s Aid.”
Yet as he recalls that time today, his memories of his childhood are largely positive.
“My memories of the home are actually quite good, we had a lot of fun people around us,” Murray tells me. “I was very young when we were in the Erin Pizzey shelter, about two or three. Some of my first memories come from there. There’s a poem with the lines ‘For she was the song on the stairwell with the wallpaper torn from the wall’ and that’s my most vivid image of the home itself. It was basically a squat in a derelict hotel.
“I don’t remember most of it; I remember the characters, the women and the children. They were some of my first friends in the world, and they kept changing. They were all single women and one by one the kids all got new dads and then eventually we got our own new dad. He was an Egyptian by the name of Aladdin and he had a brother called Sinbad! For the next 10 years we were raised by my mother, my Egyptian stepfather, and his Muslim relations. They were a wonderful family.”
Despite the fact that his mother was in a battered wives shelter, Murray also retains fond recollections of his birth father, whom he describes in one of the poems as ‘dashing, drunken and charming to boot’.
“I don’t have any memories of the violence that went on,” he explains. “My memories of him are very fond. He used to come and collect us every Sunday and take us out on the Thames in rowing boats or to the bookies and pubs.
“Then one day he didn’t come back and we didn’t see him for 13 years. He’s still alive somewhere in the west of Ireland, we’re not really in touch. I was too young to remember the rough parts of my childhood, and my mother made things magical as well.”
It was at the tender age of eight that Murray wrote his first poem. “I think it was a fluke actually,” he says of his introduction to writing. “We had this amazing teacher called Mr Spark. He was terrifying when crossed but most of the time he was magical. He used to read to us and he had this wonderful theatrical reading voice.
“He read us Dickens’ A Christmas Carol and asked us to write a poem about it so I went home and wrote one. I came back and handed it in and he berated me, he turned purple with rage, and accused me of cheating. I burst into tears and my mother was called and she confirmed it was my own work and Mr Spark knelt down and put his hands on my shoulders and said ‘But it’s brilliant my boy!’
“Then three years later when I was in secondary school I got the exact same assignment, to do a poem inspired by Christmas Carol. So I put in the same poem and they entered it into the WH Smith Young Writer of the Year Awards and it was runnerup.”
From then on, Murray started to write more seriously. “My English teachers encouraged me to write after that and I did,” he recalls. “Then in my teens things started to go wrong, our family unit broke down. The one thing I had that I could cling to was I was still winning awards, my poetry was still very strong for a teenager.
“I gave up writing for a while because it seemed like every time I started to write everything else in my life fell apart; I started writing when I was 11 and my family unit broke down. I stopped writing when I was 17, I got a job in advertising, I started to write again and I lost the job. I ended up homeless because I was writing and not working. I moved to Galway about eight years ago, it was the first time I had made the decision to concentrate just on writing.”
In recent years Murray has read at many of the world’s most notable poetry venues including Chicago’s Green Mill, The Bowery in New York, and The Prague Fringe Festival, and, fittingly, Cúirt was instrumental in launching him on the reading circuit; “I saw a Cúirt poetry slam advertised in The King’s Head,” he reveals. “I went into the Cúirt qualifier, and I performed badly and Neil McCarthy beat me. Afterwards though we became friends and he encouraged me, we became partners in rhyme and I subsequently won the Cúirt Slam, then I got a gig in the Green Mill, from that I met a German woman there who got me gigs in Germany. Neil and I started touring together, we got rave reviews, it was great fun.”
Murray also runs the Youth Speaks All Ireland Poetry Slam, facilitating poetry workshops for teenagers all over the country. “I go in and I ask them ‘Who likes poetry?’” he says in describing his approach. “If none of them put their hand up great, if they all say they hate it, perfect. “I tell them whether they think they like it or not, they love it because it’s everywhere they look and everything they enjoy is given to them poetically, whether that be the narration of storylines, in video games, the lyrics of songs, or the dialogue of their favourite movies. “I tell them they can write whatever they want. The only difference between rap, poetry, and song is presentation. I sit them down and get them having fun writing and writing about stuff that’s of interest to them.”
Murray will also soon undertake an epic cycling tour of the United States to promote House of Bees. “I have a joke,” he says. “What’s the difference between a pizza and a poet? A pizza will feed a family of four! When I worked in London I sold a million euros worth of timeshares over the phone and it occurred to me that if I could do that then surely I could go to the States with a load of books and create a buzz through readings and interviews and sell a lot of books.
“So I’m cycling around the US this summer for 90 days and you can follow my progress online at www.houseofbees.net and www.inspireland.org”