How To Speak Poetry – Stephen Murray

sm poem

You can listen to Stephen Murray’s poem “Mountain Man” here.

Full Poem:

Mountain Man

A man has come down from the mountain.

A man with coral skin.

Hollowed out caves house his eyes,

his tongue is a nettle and his mouth

full of sores.


He broods in the dark corners

of cavernous hostelries,

staring down the endless barrels

of bottomless pints of plain.


He smashes rocks

with great ogre’s hands,

rips trees from their roots

with gargantuan troll arms.

He growls at strangers, sniggers

clenching club fisted knuckles,

thin lips chewing upon the bitter cane

of his long indignant years.


He spits nigger at the immigrants

whore at single mothers.

He stands to salute Amhrán na bhFiann,

and slaps the backs of men who laugh

and beat their wives.

A great man for his county.

A great man for Ireland.


A man has come down from the mountain.


A man that the mountain spat out.


What is poetry and what brought you to it?

Poetry is an erection of words and poetry is the unrelenting Neanderthal howl of the naked soul on fire.

My Uncle Sean gave me my first book of poems, Gerald Manley Hopkins. The he introduced me to Blake and Dylan Thomas, Lord Byron also. I was really small, maybe 5 or 6 cm.

What was your first engagement with poetry – page or stage? If it was page, how did it feel bringing your poetry to the stage?  If stage, how did it feel taking your poetry to the page?

I was at primary school in London. I was eight years old and had this amazing teacher called Mr Spark. He was very theatrical, magical he looked like sparks were flying out of his fingertips. He was old and silver haired. He went purple when mad. He read us Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Then he set us the task to write a poem about it. I wrote Marley’s Ghost. I remember one line: Thump of footstep/ hammer on a nail/ Marley’s Ghost appears. He didn’t believe I wrote it, my Mum verified it. Five years later aged thirteen I had to read it in front of the Mayor as it had won the runner up prize in the WHSmith Young Writer of the Year Award. My voice was breaking and it kept leap frogging octaves. I hated it.

Below are a few quotations from “How to Speak Poetry”.  Choose the one which most resonates with you.  Explain why – and whether or not there is merit in his position (both as it relates to the page and/or the stage). 

Do not act out words. Never act out words”.

Hmmm, mainly because acting is a lie, a depiction of someone not yourself, whereas writing if it’s worthy is the bare, raw flesh of the truth, a thumbprint of the soul.

Some would contend that whether writing for the page, or reciting on a stage, poetry is all about performance.  How one presents poems on a page is a performance:  the line breaks, the punctuation, the visual impact of the poem in its physical form laid out on the page all amount to a kind of performance for the reader.  And, by the same token, how one presents a poem on a stage is a performance:  how the voice shakes or does not shake over the words, where and how the body moves, where the eyes look, the impact of language (both of the body, and in the speaking of the words) – all contribute to performance.  In light of this, is the distinction between the page and the stage a valid/necessary one?  Or is it better to conceive of the page and the stage as being two mediums among many in the spectrum of performance and how one can and does present poetry?

They are surely both valid mediums of delivering the art and message in different ways. The stage seduces, but leaves the audience no time to check and validate the work. It is a chant, a rhetorical dance, somewhat shamanic in some ways. Therefore like all religious doctrines it leaves room to seduce people with complete and utter shit. Good performance can and often does mask terrible writing. Conversely bad performance can make a shit sandwich out of a literary masterpiece and force the audience to take a bite and chew that big fat shit sandwich slowly and deliberately for the entire duration of the whole painfully constipated and secreted elocution. The page leaves no such room for error. The audience has the time to examine each and every word, to look at the shapes they make side by side, to watch them dance and see which ones step on their partner’s toes. On the page we see the science of poetry, we get a sense of the alchemy of it. That is why it is vital that poets, all poets spend time learning to deliver their work in a way that does justice to the quality of it. That would obviously suggest some poets shutting the fuck up and saying nothing. Quite rightly so. It is important before attending a poetry reading to train one’s gag reflex. A shit sandwich aint no fun to chew. Aint no fun at all.

What advantages come with being able to think/engage/interact in more than one language?  What disadvantages are tied to having access only to your mother tongue?  If you don’t consider the first to be an advantage or the second to be a disadvantage, why not?

Advantages: It allows you to show off your considerable intellect and education to an audience unlikely to possess the artillery to fire an accurate critique back at you. Fuck them. Fuck them with a strap-on Rottweiler. Le sandwich au merde.

How do you speak poetry? (In other words, take the word butterfly and do whatever you want with it).

Poetry should be spoken with an erection of the imagination, always with an erection, a big throbbing cockasaurus, a weapon of your Ma’s destruction, a proper howl at the moon erection, a thy kingdom cum jobby. And in lingerie, always in lingerie. In the lingerie of the soul and in the leathers of angels. Poetry should not just be spoken though, in fact, it should be spanked and tickled, and lubed up and shoved in, and begged for, and dribbled, and whispered and breathed and sweated and ejaculated and splashed in until we’re all breathless and tangled in the limbs of it, strangled and silenced in the funk of its flesh. Butterfly? What do butterflies have to do with it? Bring me the moths of the moon and their secrets and filth and then chop off my head in the morning, then strap it on and go forth and fornicate.


MeStephen Murray is a multi-award winning poet from the West of Ireland. His critically acclaimed debut collection ‘House of Bees’ was published in 2011 by Salmon Poetry and chronicles his experiences growing up in the Erin Pizzey’s historic refuge for battered wives in West London and later on a children’s home. His second collection ‘On Corkscrew Hill’ was published in 2013 by Salmon Poetry. He has performed his work at some of the world’s most iconic poetry venues and has been published in journals across Ireland, Britain and the USA. He is also director of Inspireland bringing creative writing to secondary schools and colleges across Ireland, Britain and Jupiter.

This entry was published on January 15, 2014 at 7:37 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

2 thoughts on “How To Speak Poetry – Stephen Murray

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