A ROOM OF MIRRORS: Hazel Hall reviews Lizz Murphy’s ‘the wear of my face’

Edited by Robyn Cadwallader

Lizz Murphy is a micro poet ― at her best when forging images from a few words. One tiny phrase becomes a poem. The result is a mosaic-like effect similar to monoku, where insights blend into each other like the reflections in a room of mirrors. This technique weaves through Murphy’s free verse and prose poems forming stories where nothing is as it seems. Within each small phrase lies a wealth of emotions that will create the poem’s fabric. The day beginning with a ‘rosegold drape’ moves through movement to stillness, then unexpectedly closes with a ‘smash-mouth nightfall’. Stains on a Travelling Insurance Man’s shirt become layers of unease experienced by his family.  ‘These glimpses are dark space between stars they silence us’, Murphy declares in ‘dark space’ (p.40).

She also favours micro images in her visual artworks, so it is not surprising that the multi-talented Murphy ‘paints’ her poetry, enabling us to see each image vividly. In one poem we float through a gallery, bleached hospital-white. In another, her tribute to fellow artist-poet Jenni Kemarre Martiniello is laced with memories and landscape images:

       Her mothers   her aunties   whisper making into
       earthfingers   a sieve like a lace leaf   a river fold

       (‘a woman’s work’, p. 3)                                                                                       

Keeping a keen eye out for stray poems floating around her local environment, Murphy catches them effortlessly in her net of awareness. Readers are introduced to the blue squint of a brown goshawk, a dehydrated bat, a rescued greyhound and many other wild and domestic creatures. Readers will hope that the family of ducks crossing the road does not end up on the Bakery menu. There’s a wicked sting in Murphy’s poem ‘bees’ as she writes:

       Male bees die from mating
       If you are a boy bee stay a virgin  (p. 76)

A wealth of interesting characters come to life. Murphy hones the details: the girl rocking on a swing; a wife who cannot be left alone; the nape of a man’s neck folding over his collar; the P-plater who has lost his wallet and the ‘lumping red’ face of a male shopper. A passionate advocate for social justice, she does not hesitate to address global oppression:

       Her sleeping infant
       limp-limbed across her lap
       Her grief as unshakeable
       as the slammed iron gate

       (‘syria’s children’, p. 87)                                                                                               

Poetry does not serve us unless we discover something about ourselves from it. On entering Lizz Murphy’s room of mirrors, we see ourselves from many angles. From first poem to last, she invites us on a journey of realisation where we see fragments of a world that needs to be nurtured. And in that process, some of us might even celebrate nature with Mary Oliver in the next waiting room!

Lizz Murphy
the wear of my face
Spinifex Press, 2021

Watch the online launch of Lizz Murphy’s the wear of my face 

Hazel Hall is a widely published Australian poet and musicologist. She has a PhD in Educational Research from Monash University. In 2012 she founded the ekphrastic poetry group School of Music Poets and was its facilitator until 2018. Her recent publications are Moonlight Over the Siding (Interactive Press, 2019), Severed Web (Picaro Poets, 2020) and a verse drama for radio, Please Add your Signature and Date it Here (Litoria Press 2021). When Covid safe, Hazel coordinates the monthly event Poetry at Manning Clark House.