In his sixth collection of poems, Whiteout, George Murray won't offer you distraction from your mid-life crisis. He invites you into his – not to wallow, but to wonder with him at the sudden shift in the view.
In this book, Murray's celebrated lyric virtuosity is tempered, or rather, deepened, by the kind of knowing humility that makes for great drinking songs. Whiteout speaks in the wry, stunned voice of a man answering time's wake-up call.
On the book's back cover is a quote calling Murray “one of Canada's best young poets.” The quote can only thrum with bittersweet cheek, once one has spent time with Murray as he comes to terms with his own observations: “Time doesn't slip away like random traffic/ accelerating from a red light,” he writes. “It piles up, like cars in a highway accident.”
As he says goodbye to his thirties, and finds himself possessed with unexpected skills – he knows how to create a divorce budget, for example – Murray is looking for some perspective, for “a stance outside my pride and place.” The title poem, Whiteout, which evokes that weather condition where snow and sky seem to blend into one another, and neither shadows nor horizon are visible, suggests the kind of existential snow blindness within which Murray staggers, as he reaches out through language to orient himself.
Murray finds a perspective shift in taking a mindful approach to small events. Whether it is dwelling on the snowflake that falls on his eyelash, on the “conjugal” shape of a typographic symbol or on the gestures of women in the streets of New York, Toronto, St. John's and Belfast, Murray reorients himself from his early life's “rush to here” to a smaller, stiller sense of the momentous.
Punctuating Murray's musing voyeurisms are the echoes of a deteriorated love. More than once, Murray speaks of a “we” that once heard, in other couples' arguments, a loud, uncomfortable voicing of tensions they themselves wished to stifle. Ultimately, the crisis that Murray's poems negotiates is not only of time passing but of suddenly being “that guy on the couch in the empty home.”
Life, for Murray, veers suddenly from careening down a well-worn track to “exposed planes in which you whirl without direction.” One emerges from Murray's “book of white nothing” as from a strange state of suspension, with a fresh sense of our capacity for new beginnings.
Sonnet L'Abbé is writing a dissertation on 20th-century American poet Ronald Johnson. She lives in Vancouver.