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Artist profile: Kevin Murphy’s poetry wacky and surreal

Poet Kevin Murphy shares his new collection, “The Bird of Pure Midnight,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at Village Books.
Poet Kevin Murphy shares his new collection, “The Bird of Pure Midnight,” at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at Village Books. Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

Performance poet Kevin Murphy shares his new poetry CD, “The Bird of Pure Midnight,” accompanied by a small book with the poems, at 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11, at Village Books. The CD has 17 works, — 12 with musical accompaniment.

Murphy has been performing poetry for more than 30 years. He is the “poet-in-residence” for Chuckanut Radio Hour, has toured the Northwest and beyond as a member of the New Old Time Chautauqua, and teaches poetry through the Whatcom Juvenile Justice Creative Writing Project.

His poetry tends toward the comic and the surreal, and he frequently accompanies himself on guitar and percussion.

Question: What’s “The Bird of Pure Midnight” all about?

Answer: It’s about rats and rocks and Abraham Lincoln, about ghosts and bags of cement, mosquito nets and blue guitars. It’s about non-human intelligence and the power of the imagination, the cusp between form and formlessness.

The 17 pieces were not conceived as a cycle, but I think that taken together, they complement and illuminate each other, and hang together well. I like to think that “The Bird of Pure Midnight” offers many of the same benefits as an around-the-world journey, but at a small fraction of the cost.

I’m happy with the performances, and with how the disc sounds. Most of the pieces have musical accompaniment, and the vocals and music were mostly recorded at the same time so there’s a dynamic interplay between the two elements. I wanted to share the feeling of me doing the poems all alone, as if for the first time.

Question: Describe what you do.

Answer: My poetry is lively, has a lot of comedy, a sense of play. A lot of the imagery is surreal and wacky, but also, I think, accessible. I play guitar and drum to accompany a lot of my poems — the instrument holds down a beat while the vocal plays around and off the beat.

Question: How are you involved with the Whatcom Juvenile Justice Creative Writing Project?

Answer: The Juvie Writing Project is a community-supported project that offers creative writing workshops to kids serving time in the county juvenile detention facility. It’s been going on for about 2 ½ years now and is the brainchild of Matthew Brouwer, who drafted me.

I go to juvie once a month for a two-hour session. The two hours I spend there are almost invariably among the most interesting two hours of my month.

In general, the kids have been very receptive to the lessons and they’ve produced some great work. I bring my drum and that’s a surefire ice-breaker. There are a lot of good smart kids that get locked up because of one wrong choice or bad circumstances.

Margaret Bikman: 360-715-2273, @bhamentertainme

Kevin Murphy

When: 7 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 11

Where: Village Books, 1200 11th St.

Cost: Free

Details: 360-671-2626, villagebooks.com

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