Poem Friday: Murray Edmond’s ‘The Letter from Rilke — Like a boat under the milky moon you slip and sway upon the crest of the poem


The  Letter from Rilke


Did you get the moon?

(I ask) as you come in

in your hoodie with your tripod.

You laugh. Recall another evening.

When you did ‘get the moon.’

Nice to see the sky. Okay. True.

Clock ticks. One always looks

for a total time of ecstasy

called writing. Taking a photo

it’s all there – or it’s not.

But even to trace letters

has no immediacy. It’s

like the moon rising.

There. You said. Some trace

of old enormity beckons.

The jug is heating up.

Footsteps. Water pump. Floorboards

shaking. I peel off

the outer layer of my insistence.

There is a letter from Rilke

underneath. As if it were a

landscape on the skin. He writes

about how it is impossible for

anything to escape itself. The sea

burnished with the full moon

blue of hyacinths. When you

look into them.


© Murray Edmond Shaggy Magpie Songs Auckland University Press, 2015


Author Bio: Murray Edmond was born in Hamilton in 1949. He has published thirteen books of poems. Letters and Paragraphs (1987) and Fool Moon (2005) were New Zealand Book Awards finalists. His latest volume of poems is Shaggy Magpie Songs (2015) from Auckland University Press. A collection of fiction, Strait Men and Other Tales, will be published by Steele Roberts in October 2015. His collection of critical writings, Then It Was Now Again: Selected Critical Writing was published by Atuanui Press in 2014. A study of Noh theatre and the Western avant-garde, Noh Business, was published by Atelos Press in California in 2005 and the long poem A Piece of Work was published by Tinfish Press in Hawai’i in 2002. He co-edited the anthology Big Smoke: New Zealand Poems 1960–1975 (AUP, 2000); and is the editor of the peer-reviewed, online journal of poetics Ka Mate Ka Ora: A New Zealand Journal of Poetry and Poetics. Since the 1970s, Edmond has been active in experimental and innovative theatre companies and for over 25 years taught theatre and drama at The University of Auckland, retiring from his position as Associate Professor of Drama at the end of 2014. He works as the dramaturge for Indian Ink Theatre Company, whose latest play, Kiss the Fish, was awarded Best New Play of 2014 in the Chapman Tripp Awards.


Note from Paula: Reading a Murray Edmond poem is like entering a linguistic harbour – you are held by the sway and slip of words, the way that sharp sea air alerts your senses, rejuvenates skin and eye and ear. He is the master of word play but the coils and overlaps and skids never feel stuck in exercise mode. This word play is infectious. It nourishes the gap and supports the bridge. Beneath the surface there is always heart, and with that subterranean heart, these are poems that matter.

Moons are a favoured motif in this collection and others. Mysterious; a drawcard in the pitch black of night or a poem or a myth or mood. The first line startles in its punning sidetracks (‘Did you get the moon?’). The last lines startling in their pitch for beauty. In between, gossamer threads that make silvery links between things. Luminous. Eye catching. In the heart of the poem, a relationship. And then another. A letter read. Under the skin; a poet, a lover perhaps. Like a boat under the milky moon you slip and sway upon the crest of the poem. It haunts. Lines stick like glue (‘I peel off/ the outer layer of my insistence’ ‘As if it were a/ landscape on the skin’). Do you get the poem? Jammed packed as it is with light and dark, everyday detail (Floorboards/ shaking’).  The line that sends you between the lines (‘He writes/ about how it is impossible for/ anything to escape itself’). Get – arrivals. Glorious.


Auckland University Press page

NZ Book Council page

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