Ralph Murre | Photo by Bobbie Krinsky
POETRY DISPATCH #358 | November 13, 2011
Editor’s Note: Ralph Murre began as a farm boy from elsewhere Wisconsin. I’m not familiar with his entire life history, but the rural is still in him and along the way other interests claimed his attention. Job titles include: dreamer, mariner, architecture—which he still practices for survival, when the words don’t call him home. Or shall I say “the sea”?
Ralph Murre loves water. In the deepest part of his heart, the sea in all of its manifestations, lyrically, matter-of-factly, speaks to him, sets him adrift. He’s writes with a true hand about a lot of ordinary things as well, as many poets do, but many poets don’t hear the sirens, don’t reach deep enough within for the extraordinary, as Ralph does, transforming line, rhythm, feeling, image, idea (note too: wry humor) in ways most uniquely his and inevitably ours.
Though I’ve lived in this county for over forty years, I never really knew him. A passing nod of recognition upon occasion…some knowledge of his working in the local building trades. “Great Northern Construction” comes to mind. I remember him sending me a poem (a good one) about a local character/icon that I had profiled in my first book about the county. That was my first inkling he had any interest in poetry at all. Sometime later he appeared in my annual writing workshop class at The Clearing. A beginner? A late bloomer most likely, born in 1944. Already shaped significantly by life…already a tone of voice in his words on the page. Little I could do but suggest some other directions: There. Try that way. Then over there. He had already launched himself…headed into those waters all writers dip into at the beginning, inevitably finding or not finding them too cold, too deep, too dark or just right. Smooth sailing.
Since then (not that long ago) he has developed into one of our more significant ‘local’ poets, where there is more good writing to be found than you can “shake a stick at”, as they used to say–which pretty much dates me. As I recall, when I moved here in the late l960’s, I was the only writer in the landscape on a serious mission to survive by my words alone–with the exception of a “little-old-lady” poet, Frances May of Sturgeon Bay, whom I did not meet (come to love and highly respect) for at least three years after my arrival.
There was the local newspaper, of course, a couple of local newspaper writers who entertained the folks with columns, gee whiz news, basking in local ‘celebrity’ (well deserved), all of whom may have penned a little book of local color or were thinking of it someday. But that was it.
Since that long time ago, I am happy to report from this oft called “Paradise” a plethora of fine poets and writers in our midst: Ralph Murre obviously one, with books, publications, readings, local and state organizational activities to his credit, a highly regarded man of few and many good, right words; Robert M. Zoschke, poet, novelist, cantankerous essayist, author of DOOR COUNTY BLUES, MADE IN AMERICA, editor/contributing writer to REFLECTIONS UPON THE 50th ANNIVERSARY OF JACK KEROUAC’S ON THE ROAD…another, (though not so obviously) an up-and-comer, our resident ‘outsider’ (reminiscent of my own difficult outsider years here…born to write to piss some people off), while I shuffle anonymously into the twilight these days, a few books of local interest trailing behind me, more than satisfied with the beauty and growth of this peninsular paradise, the wonder of earth, air, water expecting no less than the best within us–words and images…poems, stories, books, paintings, photographs, music…whether our subject be local or far away from here.
A good place to grow. To chart a voyage of discovery. To set sail. To just be.
Merit badges for tying knots —
the bowline, the sheepshank, the clove hitch.
Merit badges for whittling the likenesses
of dead presidents and woodland animals, and
of course, for assistance given to the feeble
in their never-ending quest to cross the road.
Maybe they should keep handing them out.
The badge for showing up every day
right down to the day they tell you
not to show up tomorrow,
A merit badge for the day
your infant son needs major surgery.
Another for that day he’s grown
and buys his first motorcycle.
Badges for each of your daughter’s tattoos
and piercings. Diamond insets
if you can’t really mention what’s been pierced.
A merit badge, or, at least, a colorful neckerchief
as your party loses another one.
(But it could be taken back if you move to Canada.)
Bronze medals for burying parents.
Silver for friends.
You’d rather die than win the gold.
A merit badge and letter of commendation
the day you actually give up your abuse
of anything, or anyone.
And a little badge of semi-precious material
for every day that you get out of bed
and wear a brave costume.
One for that confident smile on your face
as your knees tremble beneath the table.
[from CRUDE RED BOAT, Cross+Roads Press, 2007]
I may go back to blues, back to blue-black times
when rhymes and little pills didn’t cure the ills.
Joy-killer realities, banalities like paying utilities –
but it’s so hard to paint in the dark – back to a fridge
of don’t-know glowing meats, rancid eats, few beers,
pickled herring, pickled beets, picking up the beat
of trash-can slam, picking up jobs of poor-I-am and
picking up women in good-night dreams, bad-night bars,
rusted cars in South-Side parking-lot wake-ups, staggering
to fourth-floor walk-ups, singing blue of our break-ups,
if we’re singing at all.
[from PSALMS, Little Eagle Press 2008]
Prayers of Old Men
I’ll bet you think the old men
are praying to be young men
with young lovers, but
they kneel now beside your bed
and pray for the things young men
haven’t heard of yet –
the high plateaus of you
and the rivers rushing
to the deep sea of you.
Old men pray for height and depth
and the quivering leaf of your ear
touched by a tongue,
for that quiet cove of you
where they may lie sheltered
for one more evening.
They pray for the light
of sunrise in your eyes
and they pray to believe
in whoever they pray to
for they want to believe in everything,
because believing in nothing didn’t work.
And they pray for the touch of you on me.
They’re all praying for you and for me,
the high ground of you towering
above me, and the river,
they’re praying now for the river of you,
and they’re praying for me
to go adrift in the river
to the sea of you,
to the sea of you,
praying I’ll be lost at sea in you
and they’re secretly praying
that this storm will drown me
in the depths of you,
because they are old men
and they know I am a sailor,
and they know that drowning
is the only way for sailors
to get home.
[from THE PRICE OF GRAVITY, Auk Ward Editions, an imprint of Little Eagle Press, 2010]
Much more on Ralp Murre can be found by clicking here…