Thursday, July 09, 2009

In Memoriam: Pat Murphy

The following article appeared in the most recent issues of the Strange Maine Gazette, which recently hit the streets, hot off the press.
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On returning from my trip to Amsterdam in April, I was met with sad news. Preston “Pat” Murphy, founder of Yes Books, and longtime Portland poet, had died. I hadn’t heard from Pat in some time, though I had kept writing to him at various locations until he removed himself from care. Every time I wrote, I also sent him the latest issue of the Gazette, which I can only imagine he got a good chuckle over.

Little did Pat know, but he was one of the first pieces of Strange Maine I was ever introduced to, when I stumbled upon Yes Books in its first location. It lurked on the dimly lit first floor of the big brick building at 20 Danforth Street which now houses the Portland Phoenix and other office-laden business pursuits.

I have very fond memories of bumbling about through the aisles of the shop, smelling the aroma of his godawful clove cigarettes and the soon familiar grumblings and declarations that emanated from the area of his front counter, which seemed perpetually under threat of collapse from all the books he piled upon it.

Back in the days of the early 1990s, Yes Books formed a bohemian alliance with jazzman Paul Lichter’s own restaurant, Cafe No (founded with poet David Snow), and Portland was much the better for it. Through the back stacks of Pat’s bookshop, you could see the little bistro tables of Cafe No, each covered neatly with paper just waiting to be doodled on. Everything in that domain was rife with possibility. It was a golden, shadowy moment in time that passed too quickly.

Cafe No closed, and Pat eventually had to move his bookstore in the spring of 2002. Now at 589 Congress Street, Yes Books remains a staple of Portland’s character, run these days by yet another local poet, Russ Sargent.

My last and only note from Pat came on a napkin, true to form, mailed from his lodgings at the VA Hospital before one of a few relocations. On the napkin, mixed in with his brief note, was a poem, and talk of rebelling and moving back to Portland.

I miss Pat. I miss his grumpy and matter-of-fact diatribes, delivered in his rough but clear voice. I miss how he would stash beat poetry, Charles Addams books, Edward Gorey books, and all his favorite treasures safe on the high shelves behind his front counter. I miss him pulling down something obscure and amazing to share with Tristan and I on our visits to his shop, no matter what the location.

I miss going to yard sales in search of books only to find Pat there ahead of me, hauling off stacks of delicious art books and who-knows-what. I miss the Pat that was, and I hope that young Portlanders in years to come have another Pat to make friends with, in spite of whatever gruff exterior they encounter. Because with your books, you need a bookman, someone who makes a place in the world that you can wander through to make friends with the books before you take them home.

Pat was many, many things in his life, but these are the things I remember him best for. Thank you, Darlene and Jon, for doing the best that you knew how.

Illustration: A favorite memory from the Danforth Street era of Yes Books: the bathroom toiletpaper dispenser with appropriately bookish and pop culture laden grafitti, recreated from memory. Beam me up, Scotty! Beam me up F. Scott Fitzgerald!!!

2 comments:

Marc said...

A great tribute to a true 'bookman'.

One factual correction: The Portland Phoenix office is not located in the building on Danforth. It's in the Cannery Building (the old StoneCoast) the next street over.

Michelle said...

Hi Marc! Thanks for the correction. You are correct. For some reason my brain likes to smoosh those two buildings together, when in fact they are two different animals living across the street from each other.