The road ends, but the journey continues...

Poetry Shoutout: "Heading North" by Andrew James Murray

Heading North book coverAndrew James Murray“I am a northern guy. I have lived the whole of my life in the north west of England. I feel northern. It is in my accent. It is in my attitude. It is in my preferences: my favorite season is winter…”

Thus begins Andrew James Murray in the Forward of his new collection of poems, Heading North.
This idea of ‘northern-ness’ in a non-American context intrigued me.
A mere 35 miles west of Manchester where Andrew resides lies the infamous town of Liverpool. I never thought of The Beatles as being ‘northern’.
And yet, thinking on this further, it begins to fall into place – this marriage of blue-collar work ethic to the arts and education; a gritty, earthy element evident in both (he)artists’ life-work.
Damp, dark mists surround day-to-day living in the North, where cold light slants in mysterious angles. This is where Andrew draws inspiration.

“We strain against the blackness,
reaching out for worlds
on the edge of forever.
To light burning
beyond sky and foam.

To infinity, rising.” (from: Ynys Mon*)

Thumbing through the pages of verse early one morning, my eyes rested upon the poem entitled: Stromness.
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A solitary road, cobbled, winding,

shaking off a ginnel here, a square there.
Engineered, perhaps to break the tumult
of wind and sea. Wearing its blue plaques
upon a proud, trench coat sleeve. (from: Stromness)
Stromness is ‘northern’?
Indeed. Stromness is the second most populated town in Orkney, Scotland, of the Northern Isles.
My only prior knowledge of this place was through the Peter Maxwell Davies piece, Farewell to Stromness as arranged and performed by the Los Angeles Guitar Quartet. Composed as part of “The Yellow Cake Revue” in 1980, Davies wrote the Revue as an artistic response to the (still current) threat of uranium mining near the town of Stromness.
Interestingly, this collection of poems is published as part of the “Songs of the North” series. Here then, is Davies’ tender, warm, sonic tribute to this ‘northern’ outpost.

The 67 poems within Heading North are “…arranged in a deliberate order to represent a journey: a journey of both geography and time.”  As a musician, I understand that attention to detail in the presentation of a recording project or performance and how it shapes the totality of its message. Yes, I would honor the poet’s intent and read through his book of poetry in ‘order’, but not quite yet.
Continuing to flip through the pages, seeking entrance into the poet’s world on my own terms, snippets of random verse drew me deeper into this realm of the North.
“…and the breeze comes from the future,            
nostalgic and vague.” (from: Bright Garden)

“Tapping at the window.
Airborne leaves.
Seeking shelter
to nestle
and quietly rot.” (from: Lighted Candles)

“I could stay here forever,
always with a book,
hidden away from life
and time’s parade,
disturbing the dogs
with insensible words.” (from: Three Poems In Stockholm)
One of my favorite pieces, New Year, Morning, spoke to me in the now of this current New Year and my own environmental surroundings. I’m not sure I would have related as much to this piece had I not been living here in the deep (American) South for the past 3 years.  While it certainly doesn’t get as cold here as it does in the true north of England, it is extremely humid and more days are dark than not. Andrew unwittingly opened my eyes to the gift of birdsong, unseen but heard through the layers of a sky buried in grey.

“The sky is leaden.
The streets are all
unchartered lanes.

An unknown bird calls out
this new day; this new year.

Everything is redeemable.” (from: New Year, Morning)

Everything is Redeemable

*Welsh name for the isle of Anglesey
Heading North is available from Amazon, Amazon UK and Barnes and
Andrew James Murray’s website can be found here and a fun interview here.


  1. Donna@GWGT

    I think like Andrew James Murray, I too am Northern. I could not be happy for long in a place without much change of season. When reading, I kept thinking of Game of Thrones and their North. The story continues, but I think the North wins!

    • laura bruno lilly

      If you go on Amazon, they offer whole and complete samples of some of his poems.
      I think if you could go to some of the places he writes about, your photographers eye would capture the essence on film.

    • Andy

      Hi Donna, I agree about the seasons. I know a couple of people who have forsaken their native England for southern, continental climes. A little sunshine is okay, but after a while it all feels, to me at least, same of the same. My answer to them, when extolling the benefits of such a move, was that I would miss the seasons too much. I love change, and inparticular I love winter.
      They look at me as though I am mad! I am never caught sporting a sun tan 🙂

  2. L. Marie

    Laura, thank you for this lovely review of Andy’s book. I enjoyed listening to “Farewell to Stromness”–a fitting musical accompaniment. Thanks for going the extra mile to include it and the excerpts. There are so many breathtaking poems in this volume.
    I’m so pleased that you enjoyed this book. Now I need to write a review. 🙂

    • laura bruno lilly

      Well, if not for your interview and ‘give away’ contest (which I won!!!), I wouldn’t have had the pleasure of reading Heading North in such a timely manner. Thank you for that!

  3. Andy

    Thank you very much for this post, Laura. I appreciate it.
    The ‘shoutout’ is great. And Farewell To Stromness is cool too, thanks for bringing it to my attention.
    Best Wishes, Andy.

    • laura bruno lilly

      You are more than welcome, Andrew (Andy)… it was indeed my pleasure to do my small part in presenting this to the cyber-world.

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