Posts filed under ‘Les Murray’

Les Murray

Okay, in response to popular demand – the marvelous, magical Les. Maybe writing a bit about him here will spur me on to my worthy task of finishing my chapter. What I like about Les (and you can’t help but call him this) is the brilliance of his language, and the way he builds and layers images, charging them with emotion and hope. He is Australia’s most internationally acclaimed poet, and I think this has something to do with the huge volume of his output, as well as its quality, and the way he often consciously writes about Australia, especially country Australia, thus appealing to international markets who want to think about Australia in this way. And he’s won lots of prizes. Above all this, however, is his poetry’s utter brilliance. Not all of it – not all the time. But reading his work, you often come across a poem, a stanza or a phrase which makes you gasp, or flips you inside out, or makes something inside you sing, or just astounds you, and you know – here is no ordinary poet. This is something special.

His early poems are perhaps the most accessible. ‘Spring Hail’, ‘Noonday Axeman‘, and ‘An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow‘ are often taught in High School and are all incredible. Going on from there, must-reads include ‘Equanimity’, ‘Bent Water in the Tasmanian Highlands’, ‘Shower‘, and ‘The Quality of Sprawl‘ from The People’s Otherworld, and the heartbreaking ‘The Last Hellos‘ from Subhuman Redneck Poems. He has also written verse novels, and his recent Fredy Neptune is well worth a read. A special favourite of mine (because I grew up there) is ‘Cave Divers Near Mt Gambier‘, where ‘chenille-skinned people’ descend into sinkholes:

Here in the first paddocks, where winter comes ashore,
mild duckweed ponds are skylights of a filled kingdom. . .

. . . Crystalline polyps

of their breathing blossom for a while, as they disturb
algal screens, extinct kangaroos, eels of liquorice colour

then, with the portable greening stars they carry under,
these vanish. . .

I love the way he describes the sink-holes as ‘skylights of a filled kingdom’ – that’s just what they’re like – these vast underwater caverns with such harmless looking entrances.

But I could go on forever. My chapter is already 16,000 words, and that’s just on Les Murray and medievalism. For a concise introduction for my thoughts on this matter, you can look at Bard’s Venerable Vernacular, an article based on a conference paper I gave in February, that was (to my great excitement) published in the Australian. My absolute favourite Les Murray poems, however, are in Translations From the Natural World. That’s just what they are – voices of animals and plants, speaking. Such as Pigs: ‘Us all on sore cement was we.’ And ‘Migratory’:

I am the nest that comes and goes,
I am the egg that isn’t now
I am the beach, the food in sand,
the shade with shells and the shade with sticks.

In this collection Murray does really amazing things with language, tense, grammar and perspective. The ‘Cockspur Bush’ says: ‘I am lived. I am died.’ Murray records the voices of bats in Bats’ Ultrasound:

ah, eyrie-ire, aero hour, eh?
O’er our ur-area (our era aye
ere your raw row) we air our array,
err, yaw, row, wry – aura our orrery,
our eerie ΓΌ our ray, our arrow.

A rare ear, our aery Yahweh.

When I discovered this stanza I nearly died of amazement. And I really love ‘Possum’s Nocturnal Day’, which describes the possum’s exciting nocturnal adventures, then ends:

but then, despite foliage,
my cool nickel daytime bleaches into light
and loses me the forest genes’ infinite air of sprung holds.
My eyes all hurt branchings
I curl up in my charcoal trunk of night
and dream a welling pictureless encouragment
that tides from far but is in arrival me
and my world, since nothing is apart enough for language.

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June 5, 2007 at 7:08 am 8 comments


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