Songs My Mother Never Taught Me by Murray Shugars



  • Kind: Perfect Bound
  • Pages: 63
  • Language: English
  • ISBN: 978-1-933675-57-2


“I’m waiting for I don’t know what, / maybe a hand to smooth / the quiet hair of night,” Murray Shugars writes in this beautiful, hypnotic series of poems. Shugars takes us into the rural tableaux of the Rust Belt, where the heartbreak of desire, the small tragedies of forced idleness, the heavy burden of loss, cover the landscape as surely as the “sawdust piles on the floor/faster than a boy can sweep.” Shugars presents the painful push-pull of memory, where the need to escape the past is met head on with our nostalgic longing for it. This is a haunting of ghosts disguised as a collection of poems. —Kate Ingold

Murray Shugars writes of how we can not only endure but sing while looking hard into pain’s face. These are anti-nostalgic songs of experience, of what it’s like to yearn for a larger life while enduring the helpless anguish of child- hood and the barbed trials of adulthood. “I want to write poems / that eat meat, never mind good taste,” he tells us—and convinces us. The past infiltrates the present, the fox drags off the hen, but the daunting light of the creeks and woods of Shugars’ landscapes cannot extinguish the spirit. —Lee Upton

Shugars’ poems are familiar with the bottom lands. They lead us through the ‘alluvial silence’ of rivers, their rank earth and animal scents, to that hard-scrabble human life of trailer parks. Always willing to bare-hand the prickly vines of place and memory, he knows how to listen for what matters, for what is essential. Like the entrails of freshly gutted fish caught from the waters of necessity, his poems shine with their own indispensability. —Daniel Todd

This poet first writes: There was no struggle when I was born. But clearly everything since then has gone into the burn of metaphor and memory, into ache and solace. Murray Shugars’ poems turn on a fierce honesty, go into story, go into song. By way of his dark, dazzling “Litany of Things Known,” we move through “the distance between Heaven & Hell” from Charlie Parker’s weeping at “predawn birdsong” to “cancer & smoke,” from an M-16 as lens and anchor to “ice-glazed poplars” breaking in the woods, these flashes that amaze and sting until the world is richer and so much stranger. —Marianne Boruch



2. Ravenna Fair 1981
It’s noon, and the carnival midway puffs
in the distance. At the horse barns, girls
in high boots, riding pants, sleeveless blouses
wash and groom their ponies. Leather and alfalfa
mix with a faint smell of sweat. Ribbons,
blue, red, and white, hang above pine-wood stalls.
I’m helping my sister comb out
her pony’s tail, and with each long stroke, the comb
sighs through its teeth. By the spigot, my sister’s friend
bends at the waist, her hair draped, full of suds.
My sister gently rinses shampoo, a green
snake of hose in one hand, in the other, hair
spilling from her fingers like red moss.


Murray Shugars grew up in Muskegon County, Michigan, but he now lives in Vicksburg, Mississippi, with his wife, Sandra, and daughters Samantha and Miranda. He is an associate professor of English at Alcorn State University. He also serves in the Mississippi Army National Guard.

Additional information

Weight 7 oz
Dimensions 9 × 6 × .25 in