Book Review

The Price of Gravity by Ralph Murre, Auk Ward Editions. $10.00

     Reviewed by Lou Roach

Ralph Murre is a romanticist in the truest sense of the word.  His poems emphasize feelings, the human spirit and his interests in nature and people.  He has no qualms about looking at life as an idealist because he also acknowledges that as long as humans don’t ignore the realities of living, it’s possible to sustain belief in dreams, convictions and visionary thinking.

In The Price of Gravity, Murre’s third book of poetry, he offers the reader an eclectic array of  work. His talent, imagination and penchant for freedom of form are more apparent in these verses than in his other collections. He has written before about his reverence for nature, his sense of wonder and his appreciation for the individuality of people he knows and those he doesn’t know, but his newest poems feel a bit deeper. 

Murre’s wry view of himself seems somewhat softer as he writes poignantly of life experiences, past and present, and his continuing eagerness about what is yet to come.  He understands the place and the power of hope in the lives of all of us.  His views of the “now” dovetail into his knowing how time and age color the meaning of “future.”  He believes in chance, in  “what’s next,” and in discovery.

In “Loco Motion,” Murre reminds the reader:

     get out onto the platform 
           you never know
     there could be one more train
            going your way
     and you paid for your ticket
                    long ago
                there could be
     . . .

              one more chance
               for locomotion
         one notion still waiting
   to dawn in your silvered head
once more the quickened beating
            of your golden heart
             once more, a start

Murre holds the opinion that positive events occur well into the “later years” for everyone.  His ideas about that notion are credible as he hints broadly that finding pleasure in doing what is important, having success and even adventure in the doing is probable—if  individuals are willing to look and work to attain their aspirations.  “What is Given” presents an example:

The likelihood of finding strawberries
     tiny and wild and sweet   
     around your ankles
     on any given day
     in any given place
     is not great
     but sometimes
     people find strawberries
     right where they are standing
     just because it is their turn
     to be given a taste
     of something wild and sweet.

Murre’s optimism is summed up in an untitled poem:

            as the planet still spins
     with its endearing little wobble
                       and you
                  with that smile
            and an air of possibility
                        just now
              I think I’d like to live
                    to be very old

Murre feels deeply compassionate for soldiers in time of war.  His empathy is notable and his recognition of the effects of prolonged combat is insightful.  As he writes in “The Jonquillity of Spring:”

     And some are missing limbs
     And some have only injured hearts
     And holes where spirits were
     And souls that evermore will limp
     In hidden agony
     And some will turn to peace
     And some, return to war
     And every one is turned
     And none is like before.

The poet’s poems about a relationship with a significant other ring with intensity.  These include “give and take,”  “In the depth of the sky,”  “with the same eyes,”  “Standard Time,” and “October Dreams.”  One poem seemed to speak most clearly about love and trust. “Forgive Me My Trespasses” explores these issues:

     Allow me not to take you to that place
     where I nap on unsteady ground
     in uncertain light,

         where I take no notes,
         where I take no photos,
         where I take no questions.
     Allow me not to tell you,
     when I return,
     of the beauty of beasts
     and the brutal beatitudes
     I have known there.

     Allow me not to share
     my wildness,
     and I will not ask for yours.

In that poem Murre lets the reader know just how well he perceives the necessity for both members of a couple to maintain clear images of themselves, and how that element nourishes their intimacy and growth.

In a number of the pieces of work in this recent book, Murre uses internal rhyme well and sometimes unexpectedly.  He presents two poems in sonnet form—one meditative with almost no rhyme and the other elegiac.  In the first, “A Sort of Sonnet,” he examines issues of the unwanted, unloved, unlearned, the needy and the annoying:

     We will sing of loose change found in sofas
     where uncles have slept, and of other philanthropy,
     of nations without anthems and trees without leaves.
     Let us open, together, the hymnal of the unloved;
     sing the first three verses accompanied by coyotes
     and unparented children and the airhorns of trucks.
     Now, a soup-kitchen chorus will join in the “amen,”
     As the soloist begins singing these old songs again.

“Harvest” demonstrates more rhyme—“gathered” and “bread,”  “wine” and “line,”  “dance” and “chance,” not quite the usual pattern for a traditional sonnet, though the poem ends with a couplet:

     And if it grow cold and it be a mile,
     and if I grow old; stay with me a while. 
In all 90 pages of the book, I found a single poem that made me wish this creative man had written in his usual thoughtful style.  “Among Bricks” is a clever piece of work, overflowing with out-of-control rhyme.  The tone is one of a rant.  I get what Murre is saying, I just wish he might have said it without words banging into words, overwhelming the message.  Written as a prose poem, the first stanza reads:

     I sense beats beaten senseless, this immenseness
     holding more echoes of former cells, wisp of smoke
     of former hells and, lately, scents of latex, spandex,
     nomex, romex and tex-mex.  Ex-lovers and ex-pats
     eating corn chex, this immenseness not near the size
     it used to be, when it just held two or three of us
     reading cross-word puzzle morning news, tea leaves,
     Nazis killing Jews, Nancy into Sluggo, Adam into Eve.
     Just when I think the beat can’t go on, another regains
     his feet, chases protons across the sub-urban lawn,
     loses Jesus and brain cells, drinks Cribari ‘til dawn,

Read out-loud and fairly quickly, Murre’s words sound and feel a bit like machine-gun fire.  I think the ideas would have been just as potent voiced in another way.
“Look! Out there—” shares the poet’s image of how the future looks when there may be less left of it than the past.  With a hint of sadness, he says, speaking from the vantage point of maturity:

             just at the horizon—
     the ship that carries everything
                     I hope for
           and everything I dread.
                  that slow ship
              that was just a dot
                    in the mist
           seems to head this way
         with the wind at her back.

The poem, “Flight,” seems to encapsulate Murre’s philosophy.  It could be the basic reason for his pursuit and enjoyment of so many “occupations and obsessions” he has described.  The words remind us of what being human really means:

             It’s balance, I suppose,
                   that fails us,
     Failing and falling bruise,
           but feeling returns,
and reeling, new steps are taken
 and shaken, we try a new trick
                ‘til it flails us
               or we flail at it,
            and trying again, fly.

Reading this compilation of Ralph Murre’s skillful work set my thoughts whirling and piqued my own curiosity about life, achievement, stamina, age and ambition.  I hope other readers allow these poems to do the same for them.  They will find no boring passages here.

Lou Roach, former social worker and psychotherapist, lives in Poynette. Her poems have appeared in a number of small press publications, including Main Street Rag, Free Verse and others. She has written two books of poetry, A Different Muse and For Now. She continues to do free-lance writing, although poetry is her favorite thing to do.