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The Book of Water

John Murphy

ISBN: 978-1-908836-07-6

Page Count: 76

Publication Date: Thursday, May 31, 2012

Cover Artwork: Jessie Lendennie

Click to play audio John Murphy reads 'Harvest' from The Book of Water... play
Click to play audio John Murphy reads 'Achilles in the Afternoon' from... play
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About this Book

John Murphy’s first collection finely balances the lyrical and the metaphysical in poems that are rooted in the extraordinary transformations of ordinary lives. His themes of displacement, dividedness, human communication, and meaning, are handled deftly in poems that display an acute ear for music and a mastery of form. The voice is distinctly urban and European in tone. His themes include the economic crisis, fatherhood, illness, marriage and divorce, chronic pain, and the inevitable flux and uncertainty of 21st century life – all are responded to with sensitivity and are leavened with a subtle and blackly comic sense of humour. An ex-olympic-style wrestler and current professor of computer science, John Murphy could break your arm, but chooses to break your heart instead, in that near impossible way that only the very best poets can.

Author Biography

John Murphy lives and works in Dublin. He was educated at Trinity College where he received his Ph.D in 1994. He is a computer scientist and has taught at Dublin City University for the last twenty years. John was shortlisted twice for the Hennessy/Sunday Tribune New Irish Writing prize, he was also shortlisted for the Bridport Prize and specially commended in the Patrick Kavanagh Award. He has won prizes in the Boyle Arts Festival poetry Competition and in the UK in the international Blue Nose poetry competition. His poetry has been published in numerous poetry journals including Poetry Ireland Review, Cyphers, Mimesis, Pulsar, Revival and Ambit. He regularly reads his poetry at the Whitehouse Poets in Limerick. He has given poetry workshops for young writers through the Lucan writers group in Lucan library. 

Read a sample from this book


All these years I’ve waited like a gift for you
But it’s too late now you’ll never come
So I’ll drink alone in the Cruiscín Lán
My window keeled in the July rain.

That carillon I hear is not the music of bells 
But the sound of a blade delicately folded over  
And beaten until every breath of impurity is expelled 
And only the ringing integrity of hardness remains.

Yet when the door taps gently in the breeze
I’ll look up hoping in vain to see your face, 
Remembering our perfected antinomies 
And the gorgeous mistakes we gladly made.
Now Death waits patiently for our dumb compliance,
Kilning a smooth brown jar for our ashes;
But we’re not like those who would soon go quietly,
We’ll take our shelter in the eye of the burning sun.


How good and many are the days of your life,
though they seem the same they never are;
and though you have never been less than two steps 

beyond yourself, unable to fix your grip on the passing world, 
your heart must surely break when you remember home
and the once heard cry of a corncrake  as you clamber down 

the grassy dunes to the sea, a stray thorn scraping your anorak,
its stylus whispering galled histories to the tide below. 
There, in the remembered light of irrevocable promises

you will dream of ceremonies, the priest who married you, 
his solemn ghost swaying at the front of the church; 
and you will summon the memory of irresistible gravities 

when you were the earth and she was the moon and the sea: 
she who would drink the infinite tide and drown the sun;
and she whose steadfast love you could not spurn.

Copyright © John Murphy 2012


Review: The Book of Water reviewed by Barry Cole for Ambit (210, November 2012)

John Murphy is the greatest ex-Olympic-style wrestler and professor of computer science ever. He is also a very good poet, as this first collection confirms.

The Book of Water is sort of Cabinet of Curiosities, and a bit of a teaser. The poem 'Seems to Be', for example:

What with me being me and you seeming you,
  and you being you and me seeming me:
mirage, motive, will, and fixed point of view,
  transcendent other, yet singular being:
     in mode of the seen and mode of the seeing
     we are nothing at all if not seem and be.

Neat, but unexceptional? Not in the collection's context. The timelessness - it could have been written at any time in the last four hundred years - is juxtaposed (deliberately?) on the opposite page, by 'Riding with the Pig Man after Later with Jools' which, with the aid of, e.g., Radio Times, one could date its birth: the opening alone gives cultural relevance: 

So here goes, son.  Breathe.  No pressure.  Speak now.
I say the black guitar is a Burns and the band 
is Chris Barber’s fronted by Andy Fairweather-Low—

I’ve gambled on this late night music program 
hoping you’ll put down your paper and we’ll talk,
though lately all I say seems forced and false.

It's a cracking poem (I assume the 'program is an IT man's programme), and indicative of his cultural range. Which is wide. There's 'The Man Who Built Ireland', where Murphy doesn't play the Irish card, but embodies a tiny and moving Irish moment:

My father troops us along the North Circular
Pointing at churches, schools, and select houses. 
He says he built them all and we half believe him.

At Doyle’s corner DeValera’s coffin passes, 
Flag-draped on a shining gun carriage.
My father reloads his nicotine-stained finger.

I shoot my mouth off and say it’s rude to point.
My face stings and my eyes burn with grief.
I stand corrected before the man who built Ireland.

His range is wider than these examples indicate, but there's hardly a dud. The blurb, accurately for once, says 'John Murphy could break your arm, but chooses to break your heart instead...'

Barry Cole

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