Not Here to Stay

4 January 2023

Not Here To Stay
by Jesse A. Murray
Published by Off the Field Publishing
Review by Shelley A. Leedahl
$14.99 ISBN 9-781775-194682

Frank Sinatra famously sang “I did it my way,” and Saskatchewan teacher and writer Jesse A. Murray can echo this sentiment when it comes to Not Here To Stay, which echoes the themes of alienation, unworthiness, freedom, loneliness and a fierce desire to be remembered that Murray explored in his earlier self-published poetry collection, I Will Never Break.

The book’s black cover is overlaid with a white cityscape, as if we’re seeing city lights on a dark night. This is symbolic, as throughout this book Murray jumps between dark and light musings—some as short as a single line, several just two or three lines—and in his Introduction he discusses his search to find a place where he felt he belonged as he wrote these poems. “I found myself in many different places, and I always knew that I wasn’t there to stay.” After two months in Nashville, he saw “what it was like for people that followed their dreams.”

This collection reads like an intimate journal. It’s to be noted, however, that Murray includes the disclaimer that “This book is a work of fiction.” He admits that the poems appear chronologically as they were written, and “they are unchanged.” Unedited? Gasp. Many professional writers assert that much of the magic of writing actually happens during the editing, and it’s our responsibility to edit to ensure that readers have the best experience re: our work. First drafts are just the beginning. What daring Murray gives us are the raw goods, even if, as in the first line of the second poem in the book, words are missing: “My mind is like whirlpool,” he writes. During editing we also find grammatical and tense issues, ie: “When we are young,/We drowned in our own problems” (from “Wisdom”).

Stylistically, the poems are centred, many are columnar and contain rhyming lines. Again, the desire (and failure) to stand out underscores the work. In “The World Keeps Spinning” he writes: “No matter what I do, I remain hopeless,/But they don’t even notice.” In the title poem we read: “ …. I just want to be heard” and “I just want to be great”. While many of these pieces reflect dark nights of the soul (again, the cover’s apropos), those white lights also pop through and the narrator’s emotional pendulum swings to the opposite side: “my rock bottom would be success to everyone else” and “I see myself as a star …” Several of the titles read like self-help affirmations, ie: “Go Out And Get It,” “Move Forward,” and “Follow Your Dream”.

Dreams, fresh starts, transience, failed romance … some will relate to the emotional “revolving door,” and reading this may help them with their own self-acceptance and evolution toward contentment, and even joy. That journey begins, however, with an unscathing look at oneself, because “You can’t love anybody,/When you don’t,/Love yourself …”.

Jesse A. Murray has much to say, and this “blacksmith of thoughts”—my favourite phrase in the book—does it his way.


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