George Murray looks back at 25 years of writing poetry with Problematica
Problematica is a collection of poems both new and previously published
This interview originally aired on Nov. 27, 2021.
Canadian poet and author George Murray is a former poetry editor for the Literary Review of Canada and was the poet laureate of St. John's in 2014. He is currently the editor of NewPoetry.ca and has published seven books of poetry and a children's book.
Murray has spent the last few decades as a poetic innovator — and when he was approached to do a retrospective book of his poems, he thought, "Damn, I'm getting old."
Problematica is a collection of poems, both new and previously published, from Murray's 25-year career. The collection includes everything from early narrative poems to lyrical explorations of the metaphysical to investigations of the colloquial and contemporary.
Murray grew up in Ontario and now lives in St. John's. He spoke with Shelagh Rogers about Problematica at the Writers at Woody Point festival in Newfoundland.
The hands of time
"It makes me feel like an old man when I look at it and I say, 'Oh my gosh, I've been doing this for so long.' But I've hit middle age and turned 50 this year. It's an interesting perspective or retrospective to look back at work that you did that is basically juvenilia.
This was an exercise in nostalgia, but also in self-acceptance — and a bit of forgiveness because that person was a different person than I am now.
"I look at that younger fellow and think, 'Geez, he wasn't a dummy.' It doesn't feel like me. It feels like somebody else because it's so long ago. But I have to honour, to some degree, who that person was at the time, even though it might not be my ideal now.
"This was an exercise in nostalgia, but also in self-acceptance — and a bit of forgiveness because that person was a different person than I am now."
Looking back, moving forward
"Problematica is the term scientists use to designate animal kingdom species and whatnot that don't fit with anything else. So many of my books were so radically different from one another. A number of my contemporaries and critics have been like, 'We don't know where to place you in these groups and hierarchies within the Canadian literary scene.'
Problematica is the term scientists use to designate animal kingdom species and whatnot that don't fit with anything else.
"I spent so much time abroad in Italy and in the United States that I picked up influences from other places. Putting it all together, it's like curating an art exhibit of your work. It's a selected edition. It just means, 'We're going to take a look at where this person is now.'
"But for me, as a writer, it's a chance to say, 'OK, I did all this. It's over. That's over, and I'm going to go in some new directions now.'"
George Murray's comments have been edited for length and clarity.