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ASU lecturer says new book of poetry 'traces the arc of an implosion'

Patricia Murphy will read from "Hemming Flames" at Changing Hands Bookstore.
Pulitzer-winning reviewer calls poetry collection "wonderfully disturbing."
August 31, 2016

Patricia Murphy's 'Hemming Flames' collects 20 years of work, draws from turbulent youth

Poet Patricia Murphy writes that she was 17 when her mother set herself on fire.

It was the summer of 1998, Murphy says, when her mother pulled her car to the side of the road, doused herself in gasoline and lit a match. She was saved by an off-duty police officer who spotted her and pulled her from the car. Doctors had to perform skin grafts on nearly a quarter of her body.

Soul-shaking moments such as this are peppered throughout Murphy’s first collection, “Hemming Flames.” Murphy, a principal lecturer in Arizona State University’s College of Integrative Sciences and Arts, will read selections from her newly published book at 7 p.m. Thursday at Changing Hands Bookstore in Tempe.  

“It’s a book about a suburban family and traces the arc of an implosion,” said Murphy, founding editor of Superstition Review, ASU’s online literary magazine. “Our family life went way beyond dysfunction. It was an implosion.”

The collection marks a culmination of 20 years of work for Murphy, who is writing publicly about her family. Her handling of the subject matter stood out, said Pulitzer winner Stephen Dunn.

“Here was someone whose artfulness transcended what otherwise could merely be confessional,” he said. “I never felt the motive behind it was therapeutic. Patricia Murphy is a maker of poems.”

Dunn selected “Hemming Flames” as the winner of the 2016 May Swenson Poetry Award, presented by Utah State University Press, which published the book this summer. Dunn, in a statement, called the book “wonderfully disturbing” and said the title comes from the collection’s final two lines, “Yesterday I invented fire / today I’m hemming flames.”

Patricia Murphy

Patricia Murphy, founding editor of Superstition Review, ASU’s online literary magazine, says her book of poetry, "Hemming Flames" is "about a suburban family and traces the arc of an implosion.” Photos by Deanna Dent/ASU Now


Murphy said the work draws heavily on her turbulent youth and that it includes stories about her mother, describing her as a suicidal diagnosed schizophrenic who refused medication because she “loved the feeling of being manic.”

There were countless bizarre episodes, Murphy said, explaining that her mother had been hospitalized in more than 30 psychiatric wards and institutions in six countries.

In one instance, Murphy said, her mother made an impulsive trip to Russia, where she renounced her U.S. citizenship and attempted to emigrate as a communist. Her mother ended up spending a year and a half in a mental hospital where she was underfed and abused, Murphy said, adding that six of her mother’s teeth had been pulled and that she left the institution weighing just 95 pounds.

“Reading the work, you understand immediately that writing these poems required enormous bravery and deep emotional anguish,” said Maureen Roen, editorial and communications coordinator for the College of Integrative Sciences and Arts. Murphy “really put it out there for all to see.”

Arizona’s inaugural poet laureate Alberto Rios called the work “searing reports from the far side of the human dimension.”

Patricia Murphy said her mother’s later years were lucid and drama-free. She moved to Las Vegas, took her medicine and maintained a job.  

Before her mother died, Murphy said, “we had a conversation, and I felt like she really listened when I told her what it was like for the rest of us. And she said to me, ‘I did the best that I could.’”

“I think about that a lot,” Murphy said. “It took everything she had to say it.” 

Reporter , ASU Now

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No more paywalls? ASU journalism prof says there's not one model for digital age
August 31, 2016

ASU professor Eric Newton responds to recent study that says news organizations are dropping paywalls

An Arizona State University journalism professor has said “there’s no such thing as one model” for the future of digital journalism, responding to a newly published study that shows dozens of newspaper companies are abandoning paywalls as a way to drive profits.

The review, published in the International Journal of Communication, shows that 69 publications have either suspended or removed paywalls, which can devastate online traffic and divide audiences.

“These findings suggest openings for reformers aiming to create the next generations of public, freely circulating media,” wrote study authors Mike Ananny and Leila Bighash, of the University of Southern California.

ASU professor of practice Eric Newton, the innovation chief in charge of change and experimentation at Cronkite News, agrees that opportunity abounds.

“Now we’re in the digital age, there’s no such thing as one model,” Newton said. “There are a thousand models, a million models, a trillion models and one must find the right model for the right place and the right time to reach the people that one is concerned about in the community, through the right means.”

The paywall model came in response to circulation declines at the start of the digital era. News organizations went to paywalls to recoup print-based losses in ad revenue and subscriptions, but the move fell short. According to the study, paywalls generate only 1 to 10 percent of industry revenue.

Part of the problem, Newton said, was in the name.

“Whoever started calling [digital subscriptions] paywalls is the stupidest marketer in the world,” he said. “You know, you look up the definition of paywall, and it says it’s a subscription. And newspapers have sold subscriptions for more than a century. So all they’re doing is creating a digital subscription. But they just decided to join in with everyone else in calling it a wall. So that can’t help, that’s poor execution.”

Large, established publications like The New York Times and The Boston Globe have had success in establishing and maintaining their digital subscriptions. But Newton said digital subscriptions have also done well in small markets.

“Digital subscriptions were very successful in Little Rock, Arkansas, where they never offered the local news for free on the web. From the very beginning they offered that their print subscription also covered their digital subscription,” he said. “In places like Placerville, the gold country in California, there was no other source of local news. You had to pay the paper to have the local news, so people didn’t have a problem paying the paper for local news on the web, there was no alternative.”

Newton said there will always be “a future for news because people always will have a need to know.”  

The format, however, might change. When newspapers “were monopolies they made a lot of people angry. Many newspapers were not engaged with their communities.”

“You see that America is very polarized right now, and newspapers, their attitude was always, ‘We’re in the middle, and if the people who are on the left don’t like us and the people who are on the right don’t like us then we’re doing a good job,’” Newton said. “The problem with that is that you might be doing a bad job and the people on the left don’t like you and the people on the right don’t like you because nobody likes you, and you’re fooling yourself.”

Newton pointed to Philip Meyer’s 2004 book “The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age” as a source outlining the decline in household newspaper penetration. Meyer outlines the peak of newspaper daily publications occurring in the 1920s, when there were 1.3 papers in every American household. That dipped to 0.54 in 2004, and is now below 0.3. According to projections, by April of 2040, that number will be zero.

“We do need a new model,” Meyer wrote.

That new model may mean that newspapers of the future may become flexible as they adjust to the needs of the community. The necessity for “department store” news where stories cover a broad selection of topics with little depth could give way to niche subjects tailored to specific communities, Newton said.

Publications could turn to the public access model provided by some radio stations and look to the communities they serve for philanthropy, or they could closely pair with business and sell software or services, he said.

Still, Newton said, “news provides the information about events and issues that helps people run their lives and govern themselves in a better way. They’ll always need that information. We’re just entering a period where we’re not exactly sure which economic mechanisms are going to support which kinds of information.”

The most recent findings simply confirm the opportunity for innovation, he said. 

Reporter , ASU Now