The Kick is a page-turner, based upon private diaries kept over the long life and disjointed times of the poet Richard Murphy. Born (1927) in the relics of a walled demesne near Kilamine, County Mayo, he was shipped out and back twice to the British Crown Colony of Ceylon, where his father was a colonial administrator. Thereafter he was moved every two years or so to a different boarding school for boys, mostly in England, until he won an Oxford scholarship at 17. There he encountered Ken Tynan (a bit older) and C.S. Lewis in extraordinary circumstances. One life story follows another in a continuous, witty, ironical narrative of surprising events.
Murphy writes, according to Karl Miller, with candour and dignity, for example about personal issues, such as his ambivalent sexuality at a time of legal intolerance. This once led him into a risk of blackmail or prison in London at the age of 22. But dark events are countered by sea-light in this redeeming book.
The fear of death from a German rocket falling on Wellington College in 1944 starts Murphy writing sonnets. He’s aware that he’s not a born poet and until T.S. Eliot accepts his volume Sailing to an Island for publication by Faber in 1963, he does not presume to call himself a poet. Sheep-farming in the Wicklow Hills and reseeding marginal land with deep-rooting herbs with lovely names, such as chicory, burnet, yarrow and wild white clover, take all his attention during his marriage – to the dismay of his wife. Then after his divorce in 1959, meeting Tony White from London on the quay of Inishbofin, Murphy begins another life as the owner of an old Galway hooker, the Ave Maria, which ‘puts Inishbofin on the tourist map’, and revives the art of small boat-building in Bofin.
Murphy writes with affectionate lack of sentiment about the Protestant gentry from which he comes. The literary milieu in London, Dublin and New York are described with serenely devastating honesty. Here too are disturbing memories of discrimination against Irish Travellers, and of extreme violence in Sri Lanka. The Kick is the record of a lifetime's engagement with the fracturing tensions of personal life and with the more obviously violent legacies of Anglo-Irish history. It demonstrates the qualities that Ted Hughes recognised in Murphy's verse: 'It combines a high music with simplicity, force and directness in dealing with the world of action.' Murphy describes the literary milieus of London, Dublin, and New York and his friendships and encounters with some of the leading postwar writers, including W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, J.R. Ackerley, Laura Riding, Robert Graves, John McGahern, and Conor Cruise O’Brien.
Richard Murphy (born 1927) is one of Ireland’s most distinguished poets. He is particularly known for poems that draw on the people, the landscape, and the history of the west of Ireland. His Collected Poems (Gallery Press) was published in 2000. Lilliput Press published Murphy’s Poems 1952-2012 with a revised text and appendices in 2013 and The Poetry Book Society gave it a Special Commendation. Murphy’s awards include the Cheltenham Award and the American-Irish Foundation Award. The Kick: A Memoir was shortlisted for the J.R. Ackerley Prize for Autobiography.