Murph, the protagonist of Roger Rosenblatt’s new novel, has a voice that is distinct, lyrical, questioning and sometimes desperate. For Murph, as Thomas Murphy is known, is an aging poet, now in his 70s, undergoing tests because of memory lapses and fearful that he has a shrinking brain. “Think of the fullness in forgetfulness,” he says. “Words forgotten can be a pain. But the process of foraging for those words can be thrilling, like foraging for the right word in a line of a poem. The wrong word is wrong, to be sure. Still, it can be a beauty. A voyage. An obscenity.”
Rosenblatt (Making Toast) tackles memory loss with a fictional portrait of a septuagenarian poet whose “wonderful brain” is “ebbing a bit.” Thomas Murphy jokes, drinks, sings oldies, and wonders what he’ll be doing the rest of his life in a funny, touching narrative that begins and ends with the question, “Have I told you about this?”
What books are on your night stand?
One is Elena Ferrante’s “My Brilliant Friend,” which I’ve only just started. The other, David Malouf’s “An Imaginary Life,” I’m reading for the second time. Malouf’s novel, a beauty, is about Ovid after he was banished from Rome to live in the wild among barbarians, who speak with ghosts, impale their dead and seem on the verge of becoming animals.
In Conversation: Roger Rosenblatt and Paul Muldoon
Thursday January 21, 2016
|Photo Credit for Rosenblatt: Chip Cooper|
In his new novel, acclaimed writer Roger Rosenblatt has created the timeless character of Thomas "Murph" Murphy—poet, raconteur and dreamer. As Murph waits for the results of a dementia test, he must take stock of the life that he's lived, and what he's going to do with the life that he still has left. Roger Rosenblatt was joined in conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon to discuss this lively novel.
About Roger Rosenblatt's novel Thomas Murphy
The acclaimed, award-winning essayist and memoirist returns to fiction with this reflective, bittersweet tale that introduces the irrepressible aging poet Thomas Murphy—a paean to the mystery, tragedy and wonder of life.
Trying his best to weasel out of an appointment with the neurologist his only child, Máire, has cornered him into, the poet Thomas Murphy—singer of the oldies, friend of the down-and-out, card sharp, raconteur, piano bar player, bon vivant, tough and honest and all-around good guy—contemplates his sunset years. Máire worries that Murph is losing his memory. Murph wonders what to do with the rest of his life. The older mind is at issue, and Murph’s jumps from fact to memory to fancy, conjuring the islands that have shaped him—Inishmaan, a rocky gumdrop off the Irish coast where he was born, and New York, his longtime home. He muses on the living, his daughter and precocious grandson William, and on the dead, his dear wife Oona, and Greenberg, his best friend. Now, into Murphy’s world comes the lovely Sarah, a blind woman less than half his age, who sees into his heart, as he sees into hers. Brought together under the most unlikely circumstance, Murph and Sarah begin in friendship and wind up in impossible possible love.
An Irishman, a dreamer, a poet, Murph, like Whitman, sings lustily of himself and of everyone. Through his often-extravagant behavior and observations, both hilarious and profound, we see the world in all its strange glory, equally beautiful and ridiculous. With memory at the center of his thoughts, he contemplates its power and accuracy and meaning. Our life begins in dreams, but does not stay with them, Murph reminds us. What use shall we make of the past? Ultimately, he asks, are relationships our noblest reason for living?
Behold the charming, wistful, vibrant, aging Thomas Murphy, whose story celebrates the ageless confusion that is this dreadful, gorgeous life.
Roger Rosenblatt's essays for Time and The NewsHour on PBS have won two George Polk Awards, the Peabody, and the Emmy. He is the author of six off- Broadway plays and seventeen books, five of which have been New York Times Notable Books, including New York Times bestsellers, Making Toast, Kayak Morning, The Boy Detective and Unless It Moves the Human Heart, a primer on the art and craft of writing. Among his other bestsellers are Rules for Aging, and Children of War, which won the Robert F. Kennedy Book Prize and was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. He has held the Briggs-Copeland appointment in the teaching of writing at Harvard, and is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Writing at Stony Brook University. He and his wife Ginny, a poet, live in Quogue, New York. Last November, he received the 2015 Kenyon Review Award for literary achievement.
Paul Muldoon is an Irish poet and professor of poetry, as well as an editor, critic, and translator. Born in 1951 in Portadown, Co. Armagh, Northern Ireland, to Patrick Muldoon, a farm labourer and market gardener, and Brigid Regan, a schoolteacher, Paul Muldoon was brought up near a village called The Moy on the border of Counties Armagh and Tyrone. He is the oldest of three children. After studying at Queen’s University, Belfast, he published his first book, New Weather (Faber) in 1973, at the age of 21. From 1973 he worked as a producer for the BBC in Belfast until, in the mid-1980’s, he gave up his job to become a freelance writer and moved to the United States with his second wife, the American novelist Jean Hanff Korelitz. He now lives in New York City and Sharon Springs, New York. Muldoon is the author of twelve major collections of poetry, including One Thousand Things Worth Knowing (2015), Maggot (2010), Horse Latitudes (2006), Moy Sand and Gravel (2002), Hay (1998), The Annals of Chile (1994), Madoc: A Mystery (1990), Meeting the British (1987), Quoof (1983), Why Brownlee Left (1980), Mules (1977) and New Weather (1973). He has also published innumerable smaller collections, works of criticism, opera libretti, books for children, song lyrics and radio and television drama. His poetry has been translated into twenty languages. Muldoon served as Professor of Poetry at Oxford University from 1999 to 2004. He has taught at Princeton University since 1987 and currently occupies the Howard G.B. Clark ’21 chair in the Humanities. He has been poetry editor of The New Yorker since 2007. In addition to being much in demand as a reader and lecturer, he occasionally appears with a spoken word music group, Rogue Oliphant. Paul Muldoon is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In addition to the Pulitzer Prize, he has received an American Academy of Arts and Letters award in literature, the 1994 T. S. Eliot Prize, the 1997 Irish Times Poetry Prize, the 2003 Griffin International Prize for Excellence in Poetry, the 2004 American Ireland Fund Literary Award, the 2004 Shakespeare Prize, the 2005 Aspen Prize for Poetry, and the 2006 European Prize for Poetry. He has been described by The Times Literary Supplement as "the most significant English-language poet born since the second World War."