Tuesday, February 6, 2007


The poet, Merliene M. Murphy “made her transition”—as poet Meri Nana-Ana Danquah put it in the e mail she sent me—on Friday, February 2nd.

I had previously heard from Meri that Merilene woke up on a Sunday morning a few weeks ago to discover that she had lost her vision. At Cedars Sinai Hospital in Beverly Hills they found cancer in one of her lungs and it had already spread elsewhere.

Merilene was not only a unique voice in poetry, she was a unique influence, and initiator, in the poetry world.

We first met when I was running a weekly poetry reading series in L. A. with poet, and multi-talented, Eve Brandstein. We did the series every week for over eight years and meant to produce a yearly journal out of it, a riff on the Paris Review we called The Hollywood Review. Unfortunately, Merilene is not in the first and only one we published.

But she became a major presence in these readings. Already older than most of the poets we helped discover, Merilene was not only a plain speaking, tough, but generous-spirited personality, she was also a bridge between several schools of thought and approach to the poem, not only in L. A. but in the poetry world in general.

She discovered her voice with us, and took it to much higher and broader levels of expertise and audience through her creation of what she called “telepoetics”—using video and phone hook ups and the internet—and whatever means of communication she could—to create access to poetry in all kinds of far flung locations, so that each may share and communicate and exchange poetry and poetics as widely as possible.

She was an innovator with both language and its transmission. And an entrepreneur, while all the time maintaining her own unique voice in her own unique poems. She is one of only hundreds I can think of who should have gotten one of those so-called MacArthur “Genius” awards, instead of the usually more well-connected or well-positioned, or in rare cases other well-deserving folks, who seem to get them.

Merilene and I had a good time playing on the connotations of her Irish last name. She was a woman our world would call “black” or “African-American” but like most described by that term, she had a lot more ancestry than just what that would denote, as those of us called “white” or “European-American” have from other continents and so-called “races” as well.

The fact is, we’re all a mix and descend from the same original source, and are just variations and shades of “color”—from those rare few whose skin actually does appear to be “white” and the equally few whose skin does appear to the eye to be “black”—most of us being somewhere in between on a scale ranging from pink to deep brown.

Meilene’s passing reminds me of a resolution I made to myself decades ago when the D.C. poet Ed Cox died after years of not being in touch with him, that I would try and make my amends to those I owed amends to for any pain I had caused them, while they were still alive. That I would express my gratitude to those who had helped me or just been kind to me throughout the course of my life, or who had given me an example to model my own work or behavior on, or who had inspired me, or consoled me, or just given me some pleasure through their words or art or creative endeavors.

I should have praised Merilene publicly before, beyond the words I used when introducing her at readings or told her in our private conversations. I should have acknowledged her contribution to poetry before this, but let her passing reinforce my resolve to do that with those still living as much as I possibly can before I too make “the transition.”

Let me leave you with a few lines from an incredible poetry-performance piece Merliene called DARCHITECTURE:

“where light comes i come love/yes feigning my absences is a cheap cosmic trick/i am here aware anywhere/a room a tomb a womb a djun djun//i am here with you/my other self/necessary & not needy/familiar with a thousand darchitectures/a thousand taos/a thousand holdings at point zero to be/& knowing”


Anonymous said...

She sounds like a wonderful person. I am sure the world is a better place since she passed through it.

Anonymous said...

You have said it all my brave friend and Irish soul brother.
She too, was a friend of mine.
A true lover of the word, the work and the world.
I was lucky to have known her through Poetry In Motion (which she often credited as her launching pad), a women's collective as a writer/performer, part of her telepoetics celebrations and recently evolving a collection of work she was about to publish of my work I was honored she asked me. It was on the agenda for 2007. But there was another more daunting mission she was called to. What a loss for all of us who struggle to connect and be part of the greater good.
Thank you Merilene for speaking up.
Thank you Lally for raising her up with your voice.

Lally said...

I've corrected my original understanding that Merilene was coughing up blood and that is what sent her to the hospital. It was loss of vision that prompted her to go to Cedars, where they discovered the cancer.

Anonymous said...

Great to find you here in cyberspace Lalle!

Merlene. She was simply sincere, was she not?

Anonymous said...

...spell check, sorry


Anonymous said...

I met Merilene in the early 90's. She had a beautiful smile and there was always a beacon of light surrounding her. She was inspirational, humorous, intelligent, generous, sincere, honest and open. I lived in L.A. for 7 years and when I returned to L.A. to visit, my friend Marc Jackson and I would make sure that Merilene was there to celebrate my visitations to my former home. Luckily for me I saw Merilene for the last time in October '06. It was my B-day gift to myself. We had a wonderful time. I will always remember and miss her.

May you rest in peace my friend,


Anonymous said...

I will always love Merilene. She told me I had a voice and when I did not believe, she showed me.

Anonymous said...

Just in case no one told you, the Long Island newspaper Newsday ran a fairly extensive obituary for Merilene. It seemed to me to be at least a couple of weeks after she died, but nonetheless.

Lally said...

I didn't know about the Newsday obituary. Merilene would smile at that. Thanks for all the comments about her everyone, some say it better than I did. And hey Yvonne, how can I get in touch with you? My e mail's on my web site which you can get to through the profile on this blog.

Anonymous said...

Michael thanks for posting this. I haven't seen Merilene in a few years, but she always managed to find me and stay in contact. Merilene was love, and what a poet! I'll miss her. Just found out about her passing.
Akilah Oliver