Bully Love by Patricia Colleen Murphy
Publisher: Press 53, April 2019
Winner of the 2019 Press 53 Award for Poetry, Patricia Colleen Murphy shares her journey from Ohio to Arizona in her latest book, Bully Love.
The collection offers glimpses into the harsh but beautiful Sonoran Desert, painful but important memories, and an unexpected but powerful love for landscape and people.
Amidst the many life changes—from Ohio twisters to Arizona monsoons, childhood to adulthood, and solitude to love—the poet examines how she finds peace and beauty in spite of hardships, including death and grief, as she leaves a broken home behind to build up a new life.
Although I consider myself to be more of a fiction junkie than anything else, a few poetry collections have found their way onto my bookshelves. Usually these collections sit on my shelves for years as I pick away at them one poem at a time. A poem here during a stressful finals week. A poem there to break up my reading flow during the hot summer months.
Reading Bully Love was a different poetry experience for me as I read it in its entirety (and even reread some of the poems) over a few short hours. I really appreciated the curation of this collection. Although each poem captures a specific scene or memory, they each clearly belong together to explain the poet’s transition from Ohio to Arizona. There’s a contrast between these two different landscapes that’s mirrored in other areas of the book: having parents and being parentless, being alone and finding a companion, remembering childhood and reflecting on adulthood. I think it’s this contrast in both the moments and scenery that tie the poems together and kept me reading.
I found the most haunting—and perhaps most revealing—poem to be “Tell Your Story Walking,” where the poet admits,
There are two ways to tell a story.
When I was fifteen you went mad and I saved you.
When I was fifteen you went mad and I never forgave you.
This collection embraces all of life—both the suffering and happiness it brings—bravely and without being timid. Although Murphy grapples with some difficult topics in many of her poems—such as loss, loneliness, and madness—the poems are still very digestible because of the imagery she couples these topics with. By sharing descriptions of the landscape and those who inhabit it, the poems make reflecting on life’s hardships feel more manageable.
As a fellow Arizonan hiker, I absolutely loved the landscape imagery and was even able to recognize some of the desert locations described. I think the writing brings the Sonoran Desert to life almost as a character of sorts. It was interesting to see how place, especially the desert, is so important to these poems. In fact, many of the poems’ titles are place names, reflecting the importance of the land in these shared memories.
I suspect that I’ll return to this collection soon—if not to read it in full, then to tuck a poem or two away for a stressful week, or a change of pace, or a reminder that unexpected beauty can be found even in hardship.