The poetic canvas of Pearl is as vast as the poet’s extensive learning. The thrust of the book is a series of achingly poignant poems about the poet’s early life in California. Gifted with a prodigious memory for detail and an expansive heart, Murphy probes a litany of seminal life events including rebelliousness, drug and alcohol abuse, friendship, intellectual inquisitiveness, creativity, suicide, loss, and human sensuality, and he does so with extraordinary emotional honesty and courage. The stinging “bite” of these poems will remain with the reader long after the poems are read.
-Larry D. Thomas is a Member, Texas Institute of Letters and the 2008 Texas Poet Laureate
Pearl is both an amazing piece of work and very difficult to read. It cuts, as Murphy puts it; “cleaner than Ockham’s Razor stored under a glass pyramid.” The tragedy of a young man’s life is depicted so matter of fact, it allows the reader distance. Then it creeps back, to blindside you, when you put it down. A collection of writing so large you will never forget it.
-Michelle Hartman’s poetry books, Disenchanted and Disgruntled & Irony and Irreverence among others. She is the former editor of Red River Review.
Tom Murphy casts a broad net in this collection and trains a sharp eye on his catch, as varied as it is bountiful. Calling to mind the struggles of Tobias Wolff and A. J. Dubus III, Murphy carefully examines his harrowing boyhood, the corrosive effects of drug culture, urban blight and political dysfunction, the saving grace of mentors, his later roles as poet, scholar, teacher, traveler, husband and father, his wry encounters with Eugene Ruggles and Charles Bukowski. Use of form and tone varies too, from haunting elegies, luxuriant prose poems and stream-of-consciousness meditations to sonnets, muscular villanelles and blistering social criticism: “You want to bring your guns to my class?/….When the OK Corral breaks out, I’ll be yelling, ‘Kiss my ASS!'” His poems rise above confession and protest, though, to touch resounding chords of love and loss, despair and redemption. In his full-throttle search for the sacred, Tom Murphy ultimately maps the genome of the human heart, leaving readers the richer for his quest.
-Carol Coffee Reposa 2018 Texas Poet Laureate
Pearl is a love poem to a specific time and place: Barron Park, California in the decade before 1975. Refusing pure sentimentality like all the best love poems, Murphy depicts place, people, and culture, warts and all. The reader is immersed in a community through a poetics that is expansive in scope, detailed in description, and sizzling in sonics. Written by a poet who admits to being “sardonic, sarcastic, and unsatisfied,” Murphy’s perfectly-pared lines and often luscious imagery invite us to explore lives lived fiercely.
-Jeanetta Calhoun Mish, Oklahoma State Poet Laureate and author of What I Learned at the War.
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