Bully Love by Patricia Colleen Murphy / Press 53 / 978-1-950413-03-4 / 2019
Patricia Colleen Murphy’s second poetry collection, Bully Love, has already won the Press 53 Award for Poetry, and I’m sure it’s on its way to other honors. When I found out that her first collection, Hemming Flames (Utah State University) won the May Swenson Poetry Award, I was hooked. May Swenson is the most playful poet I’ve ever read, even when the subject is her own mortality.
Though tragedy lurks in Murphy’s poems, such as her father kissing her mother before her mother’s “first asylum,” playfulness abounds. In one of her poems, she plays a fill-in the blank game with her driving companion. The reader becomes part of the game and trust me, the results can be hilarious.
Her images are often playful too. “cows are black and white candles on a green cake,” she writes in “Time to Shear the Earth’s Hair,” which in itself is a fetching title. In “Close to Hermosillo,” she writes, “From our windows windmills / are obedient fan palms.” What an image! In “June,” the month unravels “like the loose thread the cat bats.” “How to Make a Lake” features a “crimson / décolletage of home-grown tomatoes in / a basket.” Her rhymes and off-rhymes are both sophisticated and innocent. “…near the laboratorio we see a girl / with pom poms / A woman in nylons.” In “Goodbye Ohio,” she writes, “I think this is what I know: /corn in moronic rows…” Her canny word choice can shake you up, such as “the family went nuclear.” What a twist on the breakup of the nuclear family! And her artful word order and line placement can hit the reader like a punch. In “Golden Dragon, Takeout,”” she jolts the reader with these lines— “Here’s the Kung Pao. / Your father is dying.”
Bully Love is a collection about going places—in cars, planes, climbs, hikes– which mirrors the psychic and spiritual journal of the poet from pain to acceptance. It also charts her course from her childhood in Ohio before her parents split up and, after overcoming obstacles, the flowering of her life in the Arizona desert.
What appreciation and deep respect for nature you find in Murphy’s work. We hear birdsong—“the Dean Martin of mourning doves,” the lone yellow warbler whooping, “wind in the leaves / tinkling like the world’s most delicate wind chimes.” Inevitably, her song of praise becomes elegiac with the building of an artificial lake, “Planting inflatable barriers in the riverbed, / canals flushing water from the Colorado.” In “Beauty Salon, Tempe Arizona,” she writes, “I too have seen the pink-tiled / fingers groping all the soft crotches / of this desert. I ask, what will be left for / his daughter, then someday her daughter, / the earth’s young heir.”
The title of this collection can reference many things. It’s used in the last line of a poem about horses trained to be ridden by portly tourists with cameras flashing like strobes. The horses, Murphy writes, “quietly suffering our pats of bully love.” Bully love can also stand for the only kind of care the poet’s mother was capable of. Or the mistreatment of one of her dogs by someone not actually named. But the power of Murphy’s poems is so redemptive that I end thinking, Bully for Love.