Friday, April 18, 2014

National Poetry Month—A Better Murfin Heard From

It may frighten you to know that I am not the only Murfin to commit poetry.  It seems it runs in the family.  Last year I shared work from British distant cousin Geraldine Murfin-Shaw who has written under the pen name Val Kirkham.  Ross C. Murfin is a distinguished professor of English literature who has been widely published and although I have never seen it, I am willing to bet that somewhere there is a drawer full  of his own poetry.  Comes with the territory.
But probably the best of us all is my nephew Ira S. Murfin, who I always identify as the Last Bohemian.  And poetry is just a side-line in an amazing adventuresome diverse dive into art on the edge.
Ira is the son of my late twin brother Peter (Timothy) Murfin.  After his parents separated when he was quite young, he lived with his mother Arlene on Chicago’s North Side.  Arlene, a Montessori trained educator, encouraged his creative and inquisitive mind.  Even in his early teens he attracted notice and was featured on a panel of young film critics for a PBS television program. He completed high school at the Chicago Academy for the Arts, an independent school for the performing arts.  Then it was off to the University of New York where he got a degree in writing and tasted the theater/artistic life of avant-garde New York.
But it was not Ira’s notable academic achievements that set him apart, it was the restless questing spirit that sent him off around the continent and the in search of art, collaboration, and friendship.  To Canada and collaboration on the script of a play based on Leonard Cohen’s Beautiful Losers and the Mohawk Saint Catherine Tekakwitha  with the Laboratory for Enthusiastic Collaboration in.  Down to the Carolinas to a communal farm and retreat.  To the grungy side of Las Vegas to absorb the place for a project.  A modern day Sal Paradise collecting deep friendships and creating art.
For several years he was based most of the year at Arcosanti, the architectural and ecological intentional community founded by Italian visionary Paolo Soleri in the Arizona desert.  He became Soleri’s assistant and editor.  During his tenure there Ira also founded the Arizona Spoken Word Festival and Arcosanti Slab City Poetry Slam, to which he returns annually to host. 
During all of these years, Ira was working in collaborative, cutting edge theater.  He is Co-Artistic Director, Playwright in Residence of Laboratory for Enthusiastic Collaboration with whom he did Beautiful Losers  and The Values Americans Live By.  He has produced work with Walkabout Theatre, the Laboratory for the Development of Substitute Materials, Five7Five, and Structures Without Integrity. His work has been published in Mobius, Text Off the Page, The Moustachioed Dissident, and Collected, as well as the book The Mind Garden.
He has worked as a writer, actor, director and every other role in productions in New York, Los Angeles, and, of course in Chicago, to which he returned to semi-settle while working on his Master of Fine Arts in Writing at the School of the Art Institute.  He is now pursuing his PhD in Interdisciplinary Theater and Drama at Northwestern.
He remains active in the Chicago experimental theater scene.  He has been joined by the estimable Emmy Bean—actress, singer, puppeteer, dancer, jill-of-all-performance to whom he wed—twice—in unique ceremonies in Chicago and her native New York last fall which were themselves works of collaborative art.  They appeared together recently in The Lucky Ones by Jenny Mangus in a production that was part of the 25th Annual Rhino Theater Fest.
Ira and I had long talked about doing a joint poetry reading to be called Two Murfins, No Waiting, but his busy schedule and my inability to often get away from McHenry County because of work, kept getting in the way.  A couple of summers ago, we decided to give it a trial run in a free public performance.  We chose a small park at the end of Logan Boulevard, by a subway entrance and near the old Norwegian Church there.  It was a very hot afternoon.  No one showed up except family members and a drunk sleeping it off on a bench.  Gamely, we went ahead in the blistering heat anyway, to hams having a good time.  I hope we can do it sometime and someplace where people actually show up.
When I asked Ira to send some work for this posting, he said he doesn’t write much straight poetry anymore, but sent these along.  These days he is most interested in spoken word performance at the intersection of storytelling, monologue, and theater.  Some is written, some is extemporized on a theme, like a show where he promised to answer any questions about bacon.  He spoke of “Spalding Gray, Garrison Keillor, Wallace Shawn (especially in My Dinner with Andre, but also as a playwright), the folksinger Utah Phillips, the radio performer Joe Frank,” as influences in one interview.  Yet his work is entirely fresh and original, bursting with ideas.
I suspect you will be hearing more from Ira.

(after Jasper Johns)

An object, edged
against walls opens

Objects to entrance
deep through thickness

Slit inside

A blockage, balled

Pried apart
two halves unjoined here

Then tries to start
to push together

Panels, latched
unhinged and opened

Through this blockage
an enclosure

and tensed against each other

Past the point of reuniting
suspended in some unseen recess

Language waits
in weighty pieces

Cobbled out
from racing thoughts

Against a canvas,
human skull

It points the way,

Though you move in all directions,
you always come against this wall.

—Ira S. Murfin


Tip into it
You say moistened

This tin pot ocean
Open to it

This pit, is it?

Not a toy
I play in it

Pinned on top
I pined a ton

A pint, an inch
Not in no more

Nipped and pitted
Opened pity

Tiny jointly
We toil in it.

—Ira S. Murfin


Snow returns

The old wood bar.

Winter in this city
tells about past.
It is not even trying.

You want something from it.

Stopping into this colored warmth
for amber beer and bourbon

You would be a man
standing in your topcoat
at the bar before the train ride

That kind of snow.
The downtown kind.
After-work kind.

Old wood in here,

Filaments in the light bulbs
coiled and transparent

Pay extra for that,
these days.

Over on Michigan the small, white lights
Italian lights
your grandmother called them

she assured you

This city.
Those lights.
This bar.

And in the snow you can believe it
soft against the outside
it is yours
Then still
still possible

In the snow
in here
still past

—Ira S. Murfin

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