The American poet Tim Murphy died last week. Tim was one of the most brilliant formal poets that I’ve ever encountered. He could weave together metre and rhyme so skillfully that often you had to look twice to realise that it was a form poem. Tim was also a very complicated person, and to echo again, one of the most complicated people I’ve ever encountered (amongst other things, Tim’s mega drinking problem was well known in the poetry world). Tim died from cancer of the esophagus, which as far as I’m aware was only diagnosed a matter of months earlier. The perhaps amazing thing is that such a self-destructive personality made it as far as the age of 67.
I never met Tim in person, but I’ve known him online from way back to the birth of internet poetry boards, in the early 2000s. Let’s just say that more often than not Tim and I did not have a good relationship. That all changed in 2010 when he agreed to let me make a radio programme about his life. The format was me interviewing Tim, and was that fun and games! I thought a good way to pay tribute to Tim would be to include here some excerpts from my fourth memoir, where I write about the programme that Tim and I made about his life:
Excerpts from Rob Godfrey’s fourth memoir Cranial Capacity 1400cc:
In early February, with the studio resounding to the sound of grand opera, I contacted Tim Murphy. Once again, Tim was someone I’d known for years on the poetry boards. We’d always had a bit of a stormy relationship. When I contacted him that February we’d just had another big row. Tim was very surprised when I asked him if I could make a programme about his life, but readily agreed to it. Tim’s mega drinking problem is well-known in the poetry world. Tim is gay and lives in North Dakota. He is a hunter, farmer and one-time venture capitalist. Tim is also one of the most talented contemporary American poets. Who wouldn’t want to make a programme about Tim Murphy?
Whilst all this was going on I was producing Rob’s Radio Hour, a piece of sheer indulgence on my part. Hour long programmes with me playing my favourite music and rabbiting on about it. I made eight of them during that winter. Janet lived in Australia and Tim lived in North Dakota. Due to the time zone differences I often kept strange hours. It was not unusual to find myself finishing off a Rob’s Radio Hour as dawn crept through the frosty windows. I didn’t see any commercial value in the programme. It was more a bit of radio recreation…
… The Tales of Hoffmann programme was going swimmingly, although it took time because of the huge amount of editing required. Tim Murphy: In his own words, on the other hand, was not going swimmingly. Shortly before I approached Tim about making the programme he’d had an alcohol induced seizure that almost killed him. Now, having poured all his whiskey down the sink, he was trying to stay on the straight and narrow. Added to this, whilst Tim was an excellent poet he did not have much knowledge of computers and the like. Tim leered after a young fella from the University of North Dakota who helped him with the sound recordings, and then with e-mailing the files to me. Even with the technical help Tim received it was still a difficult programme to make.
Tim Murphy: in his own words was basically me asking questions and then letting him talk at length. This interview was interspersed with occasional snatches of music. During the programme Tim recited some of his recent poems, including this one…
Prayer for Sobriety
Morning glories climbing the garden wall
vie with the fragrant jasmine to outshine
the sun emerging from a summer squall.
Blossom and vine, lover and love entwine.
He is the Groom, and I? The shy betrothed
enraptured by the faith I so long loathed.
This is the sacramental cup we drink,
this the unleavened loaf on which we dine,
deliverance from the sins to which I sink.
Here is the book, the work of my Divine
Redeemer at whose Word the worlds revolve.
Let me return His passion with resolve.
It didn’t help matters when half way through the making of the programme Tim started hitting the bottle again. I’m not sure whether the relapse was due to the university hunk rejecting his advances, or maybe because we’d reached the point in his life story when he lost 100 million dollars in a business venture and was going to kill himself. Either way, things became difficult for a week or two, during which I received some weird and wild e-mails from Tim.
The strange thing is, although Tim and I had always been adversaries on the poetry boards, during the making of that programme we became good friends. Over the years Tim has given loads of interviews, yet in Tim Murphy: In his own words he said things about his life that he had never revealed before, such as humongus drug abuse during his study years at Yale University.
Tim managed to get back on the straight and narrow, and we managed to complete the programme. Working with Tim had been both an exhausting and enlightening process. He was really pleased with the end result, and so was I.
End of excerpts from Cranial Capacity 1400cc
Tim Murphy: in his own words is a 35 minute long programme and can be found here.
Despite all the personal problems he was going through at the time, Tim was really upbeat about the programme and enjoyed making it. He was always courteous, despite the many frustrations he had with the technical side of things, and helped me, the producer, as much as he could. I chose all the music for the programme, including one of Tim’s favourite classical pieces, but what he loved most was this (if you listen to the programme you might get some understanding)…
Farewell Tim, and I’m sure that an intellectual like you will appreciate that I’m giving you an honest obit, unlike most in the (now hideous and vapid) American publishing world, a corporate controlled hell hole that never properly recognised you.