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Elspeth Murray’s Memorable Holiday Poetry


Elspeth Murray

This is an edited version of a piece that Elspeth wrote for the Scottish Poetry Library‘s Poetry Reader newsletter last year:

On the road touring across the USA and Canada as production manager with Puppet State Theatre Company, my bedside book collection a) moves from one hotel nightstand to another on an almost weekly basis b) overlaps with that of my husband, puppeteer (and poet) Richard Medrington and c) risks incurring excess baggage charges if it gets too big.

My borrowed copy of The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is conveniently slim and held together with gaffer tape. It would have been appropriate to read it while we were in Philadelphia but, under-achieving bedside reader that I am, I have only got so far into Franklin’s over-achieving account of influential, university-founding, nation-building activities.

Ten Poems to Set You Free (2003) by Roger Housden, from a ramshackle second-hand-everything store in Hudson, New York, has been a genuinely liberating poetry find. Each of the poems is a keeper and accompanied by a gentle, thoughtful essay. I was delighted to receive two further books of Housden’s as birthday presents from Richard while in Nashville: Ten Poems to Last a Lifetime (2004) and Ten Poems to Change Your Life Again & Again (2007). As well as great bedside books, these have been excellent aeroplane books, theatre lighting boothbooks and cocktail bar books.

When I read a little of Mary Oliver’s poem “Have you ever tried to enter the long, black branches of other lives” to a friendly bartender in upstate New York in March, I little knew that we would be sharing a backstage area with her in Fayetteville, Arkansas in May. One of her rare poetry readings took place there as part of a festival of art and nature where our show was also featured – a highlight of the whole tour. My brother had kindly mailed us our ex-library copy of her almost impossible to find first collection No Voyage and Other Poems (1963) and it is now inscribed by Mary Oliver (unfortunately, probably due to my bad handwriting, it says “to Elsbeth and Richard”). Her collection House of Light (1990) is another bedside companion – and I swear it helped me stay sane and out of trouble in the tortuously slow immigration line at Denver airport the other day.

Elspeth Murray, born in 1970, is a poet with a strong record of collaborative work in education, business and the performing arts. Her work is published in several titles in the pocketbooks series – Without Day, Atoms of Delight, and Football Haiku — and her circle poems appear in Turning Towards Living, edited by Alec Finlay and Song of Stone, the Spring 2004 island magazine. As joint editor, she has published the collected wisdom of an Edinburgh International Book Festival audience in A Magic Spell for the Far Journey and children’s nonsense poetry in The Eel’s Eyebrows with Puppet State Press. In 2001 Elspeth produced Oh, I Can’t Wait!, a unique collection of poems “in a startlingly original, un-booklike format” followed by a collectable set of poetry postcards.

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