Poet in the Mirror: Patricia Murphy
Patricia Murphy has been a generous guest for our Poet in the Mirror series, where we explore the strange profession of which we all aspire—today we learn about Bully Love‘s—her latest collection from Press 53—acceptance journey, the surprise publication of her debut book, and the things she wish she had known along the way.
Patricia Murphy: Bully Love started as my MFA thesis, and it used to be titled Three Pound Cutthroat (it’s the title of a poem that still appears in the collection). When I first started sending the manuscript out in 2001-2003 it was a finalist at so many great places: Wisconsin, Cleveland State, Carnegie Mellon, Alice James, Sarabande, and Saturnalia. I did revise it over time, but I just could not get it to land anywhere.
More recently and after several revisions and under the current title, Copper Canyon held Bully Love for over a year, and sent a very encouraging decline in May 2018.
Then in June 2018 I sent Bully Love to the Press 53 contest. Looking back on that timing, I’m surprised I was able to do that. I was hospitalized with meningitis in May 2018 and it took me so long to recover. I had terrible fatigue and brain fog and I think I even forgot I had sent the MS out. But somehow I got the submission entered, and Kevin Morgan Watson called me in October 2018 to tell me it had won the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry. I was so surprised!
Kevin, the publisher of Press 53, is a truly wonderful person, and so is Tom Lombardo, the poetry series editor. Tom was very involved with revisions of the collection and we worked back and forth on changes to the book all through November and December. It came out so quickly—the following March 2019 in time for AWP. It was a whirlwind publication after having held hope for that little book for so long.
On Becoming Poet
I went to a performing arts high school, and I won a scholarship my Junior year that was based on a publication project. At the time I was the Managing Editor at the Hamilton County Library literary magazine Seven Hills Review, and I did a presentation on submissions and rejections that beat many other projects and performances to win a competitive scholarship. I was already sending out my work in high school and did get a few small national publications.
Perhaps my most meaningful publication came when I was a senior in college. My poetry professor Jim Reiss stated to the class that anyone who got a major publication would get an automatic A. I was already submitting my work anyway, and I was already earning an A in this class, but I really wanted to impress Professor Reiss because I didn’t ever feel like he took me that seriously.
Then in spring of 1993 I got a poem accepted to The Iowa Review, and my professor went wild! Other students in our program weren’t accomplishing that kind of goal, and my professor was really impressed. I was too! And I do think that publication helped me get a scholarship and Teaching Assistantship for my MFA program.
On Her First Book, Hemming Flames
I had been sending out that manuscript for so long that to hear back in the affirmative in itself was a big surprise! The judge for the contest was Stephen Dunn and we had very little contact—only a few emails back and forth. For this book, the publisher wanted no edits. In fact I wanted to change a few small things but they wanted me to retain the original.
That publication process happened quickly as well. I think it was also six months from acceptance to publication. It really doesn’t give much time for promotion.
On Finding the Energy
I love to travel. Traveling gives me so many new sensory details to include in my writing.
I also love to read. I’m currently doing #TheSealeyChallenge that asks poets to read 31 poetry books in 31 days. It’s perfect because I had a stack of books waiting for me that turned out to be 28 books. I got a lot of them at AWP and just had not had the time to read them. Also, poets and publishers often send review copies to me at Superstition Review so I usually enjoy a big to-read list. So I only needed to buy three additional books to round out my 31.
On Finding Support
My family and friends are usually pretty familiar with my work because I’m vocal about it. But they might be surprised at the administrative life of a poet. I have a personal assistant who has been helping me for about three years with the submissions process, with correspondence, and with book marketing. She’s really a wonderful human and is so kind and respectful and careful in representing my work. That has made a really big difference for me since it takes such distinct hats to be a creative versus being an administrator.
On Bright Poet-Moments
I really enjoyed my book launches for both books. The first one included a reading at a local restaurant and my colleague Jake Friedman arranged all the details. He was so generous and organized and I truly appreciated it! And so many friends came. The second book launch I decided to host myself. There were about 100 people in my house. We catered it from one of my favorite restaurants. We had some friends in from out of town. It was a really wonderful celebration.
On What She Wish She Had Known
I’m teaching a graduate class this fall called Literary Publishing, and in it I’m tasking my students with four things: creating a writing practice, entering a writer’s workshop, researching markets, and creating a business practice. As far as poets go, I think I did some of those things intuitively when I started my career. But I could have made even more space for them and I was constantly craving more instruction.
Patricia Colleen Murphy founded Superstition Review at Arizona State University, where she teaches creative writing and magazine production. She won the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry with her collection Bully Love, published as a Tom Lombardo Poetry Selection. Her collection Hemming Flames (Utah State University Press) won the 2016 May Swenson Poetry Award, judged by Stephen Dunn, and the 2017 Milt Kessler Poetry Award. A chapter from her memoir-in-progress was published as a chapbook by New Orleans Review. She lives in Phoenix, Arizona.