Author photo: James S. Murphy  
As the title of Victoria T. Murphy’s In Defense of Worms suggests, its poems can be witty, irreverent, lots of fun. But they can also be nostalgic and lyrical. In short, this book – one that includes translations and a good many poems inspired by fly-fishing – is a work for all seasons by a poet whose intelligence matches her poetic sensibility. And she actually rhymes! About the book Carl Little, author of Ocean Drinker: New & Selected Poems, writes as follows: “Victoria Murphy’s ‘lyric muse’ leads her through memories of family, the vagaries of fly-fishing, cell phones on Amtrak, various birds (kingfisher, egret, duck), a defense of worms (‘only a prig/would say the worm is infra dig’), the North Haven ferry, and wasps – ‘the insect, not the acronym.’ Villanelles, a pantoum and a handful of translations, including instructive lines from Boileau’s ‘L’Art Poétique,’ round out a collection of verse that will impress, amuse and engage in equal measure."

  Cover photo: James S. Murphy
Victoria Murphy was born in New York City. She attended Radcliffe College and earned a PhD in English at the City University of New York. She has taught at Hunter College, The Brearley School, and the Santa Fé Community College. Victoria grew up surrounded by poetry: she remembers her grandmother and two great aunts playing bouts rimés during teatime on summer afternoons or challenging one another to write a sonnet in an hour; and no birthday or anniversary was complete without at least one celebratory poem. There were also recitations: she and her siblings memorized much of Belloc’s Cautionary Tales, Lear’s Book of Nonsense, the Farjeons’ Kings and Queens, and Alfred Noyes’ “The Highwayman.” Family legend has it that once her grandfather recited antiphonally with an aunt the entire “Rime of the Ancient Mariner.” Currently, Victoria Murphy divides her time between New York City, Deep River, Connecticut, and Mount Desert Island, Maine.

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ISBN 978-1-936482-66-5

Copyright © 2014 by Victoria T. Murphy

6" x 9" paperback, 68 pages


copyright © 2014 by Victoria T. Murphy


The Chronic Angers of That House

Vacation mornings in the wintertime
When we were staying at our country place,
I’d wake to hear my toiling father swear.
He’d gone down cellar in the still, cold house
To stir up last night’s coals, and when they glowed,
He’d throw three noisy logs on top of them,
Then turn the many dampers right or left
So that the heat would rise and warm our rooms.

My mother liked the scent of burning oak
And thought the ancient system picturesque,
So kept the wood-fed furnace when she bought
The hundred-year-old farmhouse and the land.

Nestled beneath two blankets and a quilt,
I’d roll the flanges on the register
By reaching out a bare toe from my bed
So that my room would slowly fill with warmth
While sounds of acrimony mingled with the heat.

“It’s smoking, Charlie,” came my mother’s voice
Calling from just outside my sister’s room,
Resounding faintly from the flue as well,
While adding in her tone, without the words,
“This happens every morning, needlessly;
Why can’t you ever get the thing to work?”

“Goddammit, hell,” would echo up the flue,
“Of course I know it’s smoking...hell.” And then
There’d be more crashes, and lots more bad words,
And all our rooms would fill with blue wood smoke,
A scent that brings my father back today
Along with whiffs of cigarettes and booze,
That heavy mixture of his rage and shame.

But soon we’d hear the fire start to roar
And know the smoke was drawing where it should.
My father, coughing, slowly climbed up stairs.
I’d lie in bed until the room warmed up.

Later we’d joke; my sister, brother, I
Would imitate our father: “Dammit, Hell,”
And then we’d laugh, as if our silliness
Could somehow dampen all those morning fires.


I Yet Would Tell You

It’s the ordinary things I miss:
The trivial talk, the silly joke;
I didn’t think that it would feel like this.

The moments when we’d reminisce
And laugh at memories our tales evoked;
It’s these ordinary things I miss.

The small anxiety the other could dismiss
Now keeps its nagging power to provoke.
I didn’t think that it would feel like this.

The trifling thought, the mere parenthesis
I yet would tell you, now remains unspoke.
It’s these ordinary things I miss.

When one said things the other took amiss,
That led to harsher words, at length revoked –
I sometimes even feel the want of this!

The unremarkable, not times of bliss,
Is what sustains, it seems, the marriage yoke,
And it’s these ordinary things I miss;
I didn’t think that it would feel like this.

Rejected Counsel

Overheard at a Woman Flyfisher’s Club Outing:
“Father always said you should never cast from a
place where you might not be able to land a fish.”

Such sage advice! We know he’s right.
Of course it’s silly not to think
Ahead. You shouldn’t choose a site
From which to cast that’s on the brink
Of some high cliff, or girded round
With water lilies, or on ground
That’s not secure, or in a place
Where prickles scratch you in the face.

It seems to me the world would be
So wearisome and bland
If no one ever hooked a fish
She feared she couldn’t land.

Boileau on the Value of Criticism

Do you fear for your verses a public disgrace?
It’s yourself as a critic you first should embrace.
Only ignorant poets think their own work is best;
Look for friends who’ll be quick to correct and suggest,
For it’s these who will give you opinions sincere
And about your shortcomings be helpfully severe.
Disembarrass yourself of the pride of creation
And learn what is friendship and what, adulation.
Those who secretly mock you may seem to applaud;
Love those of good counsel and not those of fraud.

A toady exclaims in a voice loud and shrill
How each line of your poetry delivers a thrill.
Everything’s “charming,” “divine,” “past improving,”
Here it’s “hilarious”; there, “deeply moving.”
Overwhelmed, you’re convinced by this fatuous praise,
But the unvarnished truth never comes in such ways.

A wise friend, always rigorous, won’t tolerate
The sloppy, or faulty, or plain second-rate.
He never forgives you the negligent line,
Restores awkward meter to better design.
He reprimands bombast and terms too intense;
Here it’s the sentence that grates, there the sense.
“This line’s so inverted I can’t comprehend it;
This word is ambiguous, and you must mend it.”
It’s thus you’re addressed by a genuine friend.
Don’t grope for excuses; just closely attend.

Nicolas Boileau: “L’Art Poétique,” lines 183-207


Two tufted titmice are in love with themselves;
No, not with each other: in love with themselves.

Against my window they flutter about,
Obsessed by – well, by who knows what.

They’ve gazed at themselves and sung all day,
And they’re both refusing to fly away.

I think each sees in its own reflection
An object of intense affection;

Apparently nothing can surpass
That handsome titmouse in the glass.

It’s most unkind of springtime Cupid
To dupe the birds into acting stupid.

I can only hope these two Narcissi
Are brother and brother, or sis and sissy,

Because otherwise, if they’re a pair,
Their marriage won’t go anywhere.

Murphy’s Law, Improved

This time of year, it seems, the squirrel desires
To end his life squashed flat beneath your tires.
He dashes out just as you’re driving by;
It seems inevitable he will die.
But when you wince, imagining the thwack,
And in the mirror glance with horror back –
There is no corpse! How did that squirrel contrive
Against all chances somehow to survive?

Remember to be thankful for a lot:
So many things that might go wrong do not.

Birds in Winter

Winter birds must forage all the time.
Around my feeder nervously they cluster.
They’d be much happier in a southern clime.

They like sunflower seeds, not millet; only prime
Birdseed, the costliest, passes muster.
Winter birds must forage all the time.

Nuthatches, chickadees, and even, I’m
Surprised to see, a towhee, somewhat flustered.
(He’d be much happier in a southern clime.)

A feisty wren of rusty hue sublime
Hates all the other birds, and they distrust her –
Fighting, all want to eat at the same time.

A harrier flies over, bent on crime,
And all the blue jays squawk with noisy bluster,
Announcing they’d be happier in southern climes.

This feathery drama’s tiring, and I’ve exhausted rhyme –
But fill the bird feeder again I must – for
Winter birds still forage all the time.
We’d all be happier in a southern clime.


Old Lyme, CT, April 2010

We saw no sunrise at the Sunrise Service,
Just dank fog over the meadow and Long Island Sound,
The only foreground, two gulls, riding the tide.

Then, late that afternoon, I looked the length of Main Street,
Through the purple scrim of flowering trees to the river,
And there they were: white sails glowing in the low sunlight,
Gliding back and forth like distant alleluias.

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