Monday, October 24, 2011


(For Jen)

Words can be filled
with all sorts of things:
meanings and feelings
and secrets and lies.

I found some of yours
in a sentence today
hiding in a letter
packed full of truths.

I wasn't sure what
they meant at first;
it scared me,
but I want you too.

Copyright ©1994 by Jim Murdoch

Jim Murdoch is a Scottish writer living just outside Glasgow. His poetry appeared regularly in small press magazines during the seventies and eighties. In the nineties he turned to prose-writing and has completed five novels and a collection of short stories. His first novel, Living with the Truth, was published in 2008 and the sequel, Stranger than Fiction, the following year. In 2010 he brought out a collection of his poetry spanning over thirty years of writing entitled This Is Not About What You Think and later this year his next novel, Milligan and Murphy, a work inspired by the writing of Samuel Beckett, will be available in paperback. You can find out more about him on his blog, The Truth About Lies and you can read further examples of his poetry on his website.


Joanne said...

It's fascinating that something as small as a word or two can be filled with something so huge. Feeling, meaning, heart. Writing is a beautiful process.

Old Kitty said...

Thanks for sharing this lovely emotional poem here. Take care

L.G.Smith said...

Very nice.

Tara said...

Simple and truthful. Lovely.

Elisabeth said...

The simplicity of this poem belies its complexity. There's something wonderful about the way a few words can evoke so much resonance. Thanks Jim and Angela.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I want to know more of what that poem means.

Alleged Author said...

So romantic. I love that he finds a message of lies. Makes me think she told him she didn't want him but that was a lie. Great!

Crystal Pistol said...

The romance here hurts my heart. I can feel it so acutely. Very well written. Great choice today, Angela. :)

Elisabeth said...

The first line, Jim, seems like a typo, perhaps. I can't quite make sense of the words: 'to are', but the rest is delicate and exquisite. Thanks for taking us on this journey.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’ve fixed the typo, Lis and here’s the post again.

Thank you for all the kind comments. I’m glad the poem hasn’t lost any of its power. It’s impossible to address your request though, Alex, because every person will bring something different to the piece to complete it but perhaps the following will help. I have compared a poem to an iceberg before – only the tip appears on the page, the rest is buried in the poet’s mind. In that respect, every poem you’ve ever read was incomplete. Here I’m with Samuel Johnson: “A writer only begins a book. A reader finishes it.” The same rule applies, more so I would say, with poetry. Many people think of a poem as a word puzzle, something to be solved and although at a very basic level that is true – each and every word we use is its own puzzle – that’s not the kind of poetry I write. My wife coined a term of which I’m very fond, ‘decoder ring poems’, and these are poems that are impossible to grasp without some key that is not contained within the poem itself. Generally speaking I think if a poem needs specialist knowledge to understand it then it’s not so much a bad poem as a poem that will appeal to only a very limited audience. ‘Messages’ manages to be both accessible to all up to a certain point but once that point has been passed without help from me all you have is your imagination. Who, for example, is the Jen the poem is for? What were the circumstances that inspired the poem? Why did I write ‘want’ as opposed to ‘love’ or ‘need’?

Robert Browning was once asked the meaning of one of his more difficult poems. ‘Madam,' he replied, ‘When I wrote that only God and I knew what it meant. Now only God knows.' I wrote ‘Messages’ on 26th June 1994 so you’ll have to forgive me if I don’t have all the details to hand. I will still have Jen’s letter – I have all her letters – but I cannot remember which one, if it was just one, that prompted me to express myself so. The poem was written for her and her alone and anything that anyone else gets out of it is by the way but then hundreds of people have co-opted love poems and made them their own. This has happened to me. I have a poem I think of a ‘the Barry poem’ because once my boss read it she immediately made it her own; it said exactly how she felt about this guy called Barry even though it was again written for Jen.

I have, possibly more so that many authors, been fascinated with the limitations, the downright inadequacy of language: so much is open to interpretation. People say one thing and mean another: the woman says, ‘No,’ the man hears, ‘Yes,’ because that’s what her body language communicates. ‘I love you’ is probably one of the most misunderstood expressions ever used. Jen came into my life at a very difficult time. She had been a family friend but little more. Once my marriage fell apart I moved away and, much to my surprise, we began a correspondence and, reading in between the lines, I began to realise that this woman had feelings for me and, also to my surprise, I for her. This is the last poem I ever wrote her, ‘the Barry poem’:

     You and I, A Poem About Identity

     (for Jen)

     You are not me and yet you are –
     you're that other part of me
     that brings me to peace with myself.

     Loneliness is incompletion
     but you make me whole and still more:
     you've let me see what I could be.

     And I love you for that.

     17 August 1996

Elisabeth said...

Thanks Jim. I thought this might be the case.

Jessie Humphries said...

Cool stuff. I forget about how moving poetry can be sometimes.

Susan Oloier said...

I started my writing career with poetry, but nothing at Jim's level. I love the commentary, as well as the poetry. I like the idea of the reader finishing the work. Simply lovely.

Angela Cothran said...

I've never heard of Jim Murdoch--thanks for the introduction :) This poem is beautiful.

Sharon K. Mayhew said...

Wow...that second poem in Jim's comment made my heart be still. Beautiful!

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Len Lambert said...

Wow. Both the poem you shared and the 2nd poem on the comments that Jim shared are beautiful!