In one of the most striking lines in The Redcoats, Ryan Murphy says, “I have cannibalized other moments to invent this one.” We all do that, of course, but, as Murphy shows us, the present is still tenuous, porous. In these poems you will find the ghosts of what are called American heroes, Paul Revere, Neil Armstrong, Thomas Paine, washed up along with other detritus, in a “Yardsale: one broken promise/after another.” “A lawnchair festooned with balloons” This is Oppen's “light of shipwreck,” an insomniac’s waking dream. There is a restless sweep to this book, or, as the speaker tells us, “I can't stop thinking of the nothing I want.”
In Ryan Murphy’s affably damaged lyrics the antifreeze goes down smooth, broken flowers of the bank machines light the sky, and every “you” is faithful to someone, though you alone will know it. The condition of living in an intolerable world capable of producing instances and images of abject beauty – you may lose yourself attempting to sort out the difference between image and instance, in fact – is both poetic ground and ever-fleeting subject matter in The Redcoats. Beauty itself becomes a site in the work for questions, so that one might begin again to approach and articulate the edges and odd intensities of private and public histories alike. There’s an unassuming generosity to Murphy's poetry, and a real pleasure to bringing it in.
Sweeping the beach with a colonial metal detector, Murphy palms lost linguistic trinkets of American occupational history, strains them with the torn mesh of the present. This lapidary work glitters with more than the sum of its surfaces.
Ryan Murphy’s poems are quietly, subversively disjunctive and at the same time filled with the lights, tones, and currents of real experience. Murphy has a wonderful feeling for the music of language, and he has a sharp eye which he trains unflinchingly on what is inside as much as what is outside. The result is poems that are lyrical but surprisingly tough-minded. To me, this is the best book so far by one of our best young poets.
The Redcoats is a book of doubts. An elegy and celebration of those fragments of a specific American history always at risk of reduction to kitsch and irony. These poems attempt to manufacture a sense of identity from the contradictions of a self-consciously contemporary perception of these historical tropes, and the overwhelming sense of being ill-equipped to abide in those perceptions. Rather than applying a historical context to the contemporary, The Redcoats provides a contemporary context to the historic (in the manner, for example, of the painter Larry Rivers).This makes it perhaps a sad book, or a book with more dislocation than comfort, but with the ambition to find and occupy a space between, to at least temporarily balance the blind acceptance of a moral and nationalistic absolutism (which may also stand in here for a kind of New England spirituality) and a comic and ironic rejection of those mores in the face of contemporary life.
The Redcoats recognizes a pressure to enjoy the spoils of our national mythology and the absurdity of anxiety in an age of easy antidote, modern medicine, and quotidian comfort. A history, however, not regarded with either pure rapture or dismissive disinterest but with an unsettling combination of both.