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On Les Murray

Colin Burrow: Les Murray, 27 July 2017

... Bunyah is​ a valley about 300 km north of Sydney in which the Australian poet Les Murray grew up, and to which he returned in 1985 as ‘my refuge and my homeplace’. Over-educated readers might imagine from its title that On Bunyah (Carcanet, £14.99) is a set of philosophical meditations which belongs on the shelves next to, say, John Stuart Mill’s On Liberty ...

Play It Again

C.K. Stead: For Les Murray, 17 September 1998

... For Les Murray on his 60th Birthday, 17 October 1998 Corporate raider in the larder of language with more than a tyre to spare and girth to go he lacks the classic pose of restraint his motto ‘Never say When’ his poems pack-horses unloaded line by line under a blazing sky or in the downpour that speaks in gutters and spouts of Excess ...

Boeotian Masters

Donald Davie, 5 November 1992

The Paperbark Tree: Selected Prose 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 360 pp., £18.95, September 1992, 0 85635 976 9
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... by a book, or by my response to a book. Up to past the half-way mark I was delighted, finding in Murray’s prose repeatedly the dash and decisiveness that have won me over in many of his poems; after that, I was more and more turned off, left with a bad taste in my mouth, until in the end I was finding him unreadable. Partly this must have to do with the ...

Standing up to the city slickers

C.K. Stead, 18 February 1988

Selected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 151 pp., £3.95, April 1986, 0 85635 667 0
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The Daylight Moon 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 86 pp., £6.95, February 1988, 0 85635 779 0
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... Les Murray (b.1938) grew up on a dairy farm in northern New South Wales, an only child whose mother died of what seems to have been a medical misadventure when he was 12. The farmhouse was hardly more than a timber shell with an iron roof – there was no lining or ceiling, and conditions were primitive. He was a fat boy, and still quakes inwardly when he finds himself in a school-yard, remembering taunts of long ago ...

I lived in funeral

Robert Crawford: Les Murray, 7 February 2013

New Selected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 310 pp., £14.95, April 2012, 978 1 84777 167 4
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... Now in his mid-seventies, Les Murray has written some of the most astounding poems of our era. The opening words of several – ‘All me are standing on feed’ or ‘Eye-and-eye eye an eye’ or ‘Sleeping-bagged in a duplex wing’ – announce a talent for reconfiguring the English language. In a lesser writer this would be mannerism, but Murray combines relentless technical adroitness with the courage to draw deeply on aspects of his own experience, some of them very dark indeed ...

Now for the Hills

Stephanie Burt: Les Murray, 16 March 2000

Collected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 476 pp., £12.95, May 1988, 1 85754 369 6
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Fredy Neptune 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 256 pp., £19.95, May 1999, 1 85754 433 1
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Conscious and Verbal 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 89 pp., £6.95, October 1999, 1 85754 453 6
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... Prodigious and frustrating, welcoming and cantankerous, Les Murray’s body of work has made him both Australia’s best-known poet and its most powerful. Full of Australian history, places and things, his poetry also displays the more abstract qualities Murray likes to think of as Australian ...

Advice for the New Nineties

Julian Symons, 12 March 1992

HMS Glasshouse 
by Sean O’Brien.
Oxford, 56 pp., £5.99, November 1991, 0 19 282835 5
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The Hogweed Lass 
by Alan Dixon.
Poet and Printer, 33 pp., £3, September 1991, 0 900597 39 9
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Collected Poems 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 319 pp., £18.95, November 1991, 0 85635 923 8
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... lady’. Straining a bit for effect? No doubt, but outrageous metaphor like this keeps you alert. Les Murray is a rarity, a poet with a gift of the gab used not for self-regarding rhetoric but for storytelling, a man writing with unstrained and often moving eloquence about the places and people of his native New South Wales. He offers a possible answer ...

Carnival Time

Peter Craven, 18 February 1988

The Remake 
by Clive James.
Cape, 223 pp., £10.95, October 1987, 0 224 02515 5
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In the Land of Oz 
by Howard Jacobson.
Hamish Hamilton, 380 pp., £12.95, September 1987, 0 241 12110 8
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... long poem in its recent history. He has more sympathy and less nonsense to offer on the subject of Les Murray, though again he cannot resist a facile categorisation whereby Murray is ‘prelapsarian’ and in touch with an ‘outside world’ which vindicates his nationalism – a quality which is apparently denied to ...

Ancient Orthodoxies

C.K. Stead, 23 May 1991

Antidotes 
by C.H. Sisson.
Carcanet, 64 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 908 4
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Dog Fox Field 
by Les Murray.
Carcanet, 103 pp., £6.95, February 1991, 0 85635 950 5
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True Colours 
by Neil Powell.
Carcanet, 102 pp., £6.95, March 1991, 0 85635 910 6
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Eating strawberries in the Necropolis 
by Michael Hulse.
Harvill, 63 pp., £5.95, March 1991, 0 00 272076 0
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... edges, and the elegant languid lofting into the air – but I don’t see them in the poem. When Les Murray writes, ‘the white-faced heron hides in the drain with her spear,’ or when Allen Curnow writes, ‘the small wind instruments in the herons’ throats / play an incorrigible music,’ there is in each case the shock of something quite ...

All Fresh Today

Michael Hofmann: Karen Solie, 3 April 2014

The Living Option: Selected Poems 
by Karen Solie.
Bloodaxe, 160 pp., £9.95, October 2013, 978 1 85224 994 6
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... Introducing Karen Solie, I would adapt what Joseph Brodsky said some thirty years ago of the great Les Murray: ‘It would be as myopic to regard Mr Murray as an Australian poet as to call Yeats an Irishman. He is, quite simply, the one by whom the language lives.’ Solie is Canadian (born in 1966, in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, of Norwegian immigrant stock), the author of three previous books of poems, Short Haul Engine (2001), Modern and Normal (2005) and Pigeon (2009), and now this ‘new and selected’, and, yes, she is the one by whom the language lives ...

Ecclefechan and the Stars

Robert Crawford, 21 January 1988

The Crisis of the Democratic Intellect 
by George Davie.
Polygon, 283 pp., £17.95, September 1986, 0 948275 18 9
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... him beside the most Scottish-influenced of Australian poets, the ‘generalist’ Sydney graduate Les Murray, who has such a strong ‘sense of the simultaneous interconnectedness of all things’. Davie writes splendidly about the importance of this ‘comparative method’ to MacDiarmid’s Scots poetry, particularly to A drunk man. What Davie does not ...

Speaking in Tongues

Robert Crawford, 8 February 1996

The Poetry of Scotland: Gaelic, Scots and English 1380-1980 
edited and introduced by Roderick Watson.
Edinburgh, 752 pp., £19.95, May 1995, 0 7486 0607 6
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... expansive 18th-century Gaelic poem on deer (echoes of which can be heard in Crichton Smith and Les Murray) is juxtaposed with John Davidson’s ‘A Runnable Stag’. This should have been the book which set the agenda for all future collections of Scottish poetry, but we have had to wait over half a century for a comprehensive anthology which ...

Drinking and Spewing

Sally Mapstone: The Variousness of Robert Fergusson, 25 September 2003

‘Heaven-Taught Fergusson’: Robert Burns’s Favourite Scottish Poet 
edited by Robert Crawford.
Tuckwell, 240 pp., £14.99, August 2002, 1 86232 201 5
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... are interspersed with poems on him by, among others, Kathleen Jamie, Edwin Morgan and Les Murray. This is an elegant echo of Ruddiman’s Weekly Magazine, in which many of Fergusson’s poems first appeared, and where verse was juxtaposed with essays, articles and correspondence. Fergusson is much admired by other poets – as so famously by ...

Diary

John Lanchester: On Fatties, 20 March 1997

... thin. He is twenty pounds lighter than he was when first elected. There’s a wonderful poem by Les Murray, terrific poet and world-class fatty, called ‘Quintets for Robert Morley’. The poem begins: Is it possible that hyper- ventilating up Parnassus I have neglected to pay tribute to the Stone Age aristocracy?    I refer to the fat. This ...

Bad Dreams

Robert Crawford: Peter Porter, 6 October 2011

The Rest on the Flight: Selected Poems 
by Peter Porter.
Picador, 421 pp., £12.99, May 2010, 978 0 330 52218 2
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... too much. ‘My vernacular was always bookish,’ Porter wrote in a late poem published long after Les Murray had celebrated Australia as ‘the vernacular republic’. Porter’s realignment of his attitude towards his native country, following his affair with Lehmann, led to an engagement with ideas of Australian identity. Living in a Calm ...

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