Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Wednesday, 18 January 2017


The Lenny

It was not a pretty sight
the way he fell to earth
his body racked with poetic spasm.

And I watched them jam
that thing into his mouth
but had to turn away as he screamed:

"Not my words! Please
don't take my words away."
But it was too late. It always is.

26 September 1989

There is a scene toward the end of the biopic Lenny where Dustin Hoffman yells out the following:

Lenny Bruce
Please! Don't take away my words! They're just words! I’m not hurting anybody!

That’s where the title of the poem comes from. The body owes a debt to One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the scene where Jack Nicholson gets electroshock therapy. Somehow the two ended up blurred in my head.
People often ask what you’d rather lose, your sense of sight or your hearing. But what if you’re a writer and you’re forced to have to choose between your ability to write and your ability to see or hear? What would you pick? I remember during those three years in the nineties when I couldn’t write I felt like I wasn’t me; I’d lost my sense of poetry. What was the point of seeing and hearing if you can’t write about it?


Kass said...

Poetic spasm. That's good.

Having our words taken away. Hard to imagine with how freely obscenities flow these days.

Jim Murdoch said...

Oh, I agree totally, Kass. That said I’ve never been one for swearing. The words never sound right when they come out of my mouth. I hate it when Carrie asks me what someone said on TV and I have to repeat it. I include cusswords in my novels and even in a couple of poems if they’re appropriate although if I ever had to do a public reading I’m sure I’d read from some other section. I’m neither upset nor offended by swearing and it can be used to powerful effect—I remember the singular “Fuck life,” in Beckett’s Rockaby which you’re really not expecting—but if used too much it’s simply wasted breath.

Talking about breath, I suffer from asthma. It’s not so bad these days but as a kid I had a rough time of it. For the first few years, however, we referred to these attacks as “bronchospasms” which got simplified to simply “spasms”: “Our Jimmy’s having a spasm.” It’s a term I still use with family rather than “asthma attack”. The notion of a poetic spasm was an obvious one to me, something that took control of me. I miss them. I’ve not had a proper poetic spasm in a long time, just the occasional and short-lived bout of whatever the poetic equivalent of breathlessness might be, enough to generate two or three lines and that’s that.

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