Andrew Lansdown

Andrew Lansdown header image

Les Murray

Les Murray is Australia’s leading poet and one of the greatest contemporary poets writing in English. His work has been published in ten languages.

Les Murray has won many literary awards, including the Grace Leven Prize (1980 and 1990), the Petrarch Prize (1995), and the prestigious TS Eliot Award (1996). In 1999 he was awarded the Queens Gold Medal for Poetry on the recommendation of Ted Hughes. (Quoted from Les Murray’s website – http://www.lesmurray.org/index.htm.)

 

Literary Works by Les Murray

 

Poetry

1.      The llex Tree (with Geoffrey Lehmann), Canberra, ANU Press, 1965

2.      The Weatherboard Cathedral, Sydney, Angus & Robertson, 1969

3.      Poems Against Economics, Angus & Robertson, 1972

4.      Lunch & Counter Lunch, Angus & Robertson, 1974

5.      Selected Poems: The Vernacular Republic, Angus & Robertson, 1976

6.      Ethnic Radio, Angus & Robertson, 1977

7.      The Boys Who Stole The Funeral, Angus & Robertson, 1979, 1980; and Manchester, Carcanet, 1989

8.      The Vernacular Republic: Poems 1961-1981, Angus & Robertson, 1982; Edinburgh, Canongate, 1982; New York, Persea Books, 1982 and (enlarged and revised edition) Angus & Robertson, 1988

9.      The People’s Otherworld, Angus & Robertson, 1983

10.  Selected Poems, Carcanet, 1986

11.  The Daylight Moon, Angus & Robertson, 1987; Carcanet, 1988; and Persea Books, 1988

12.  Dog Fox Field, Sydney: Angus & Robertson, 1990; Carcanet, 1991; and New York, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1993

13.  Collected Poems, Angus & Robertson, 1991; Carcanet, 1991; London, Minerva, 1992 and (released as The Rabbiter’s Bounty, Collected Poems), Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1991

14.  Translations from the Natural World, Paddington: Isabella Press, 1992; Carcanet, 1993 and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1994

15.  Collected Poems, Port Melbourne, William Heinemann Australia, 1994

16.  Subhuman Redneck Poems, Carcanet and Sydney, Duffy & Snellgrove, 1996

17.  Fredy Neptune, A Novel in Verse, Carcanet and Duffy & Snellgrove, 1998

18.  Collected Poems, Carcanet, 1998

19.  New Selected Poems, Duffy & Snellgrove, 1999

20.  Conscious and Verbal, Carcanet, 1999; and Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000

21.  Learning Human, Selected Poems, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2000; Carcanet 2001

22.  Learning Human, New Selected Poems, Carcanet, 2001

23.  Collected Poems, Duffy & Snellgrove, 2002

24.  Poems the Size of Photographs, Duffy & Snellgrove; and Carcanet, 2002

25.  New Collected Poems, Duffy & Snellgrove, 2002; and Carcanet, 2003

26.  Learning Human: New Selected Poems, Duffy & Snellgrove, 2003

27.  Biplane Houses, Black Inc, 2006; and Carcanet 2006

28.  Taller When Prone, Black Inc, 2010; Carcanet, 2010

29.  Les Murray Reading from his poems, CD, The Poetry Archive, 2005

 

Essays

1.     The Peasant Mandarin: Prose Pieces, St. Lucia, UQP, 1978

2.     Persistence in Folly: Selected Prose Writings, Angus & Robertson, 1984

3.     Blocks and Tackles: Articles and Essays 1982 to 1990, Angus & Robertson, 1990

4.     A Working Forest (essays), Duffy & Snellgrove, 2000

5.     The Quality of Sprawl: Thoughts about Australia, Duffy & Snellgrove, 1999

 

 

7 Poems by Les Murray

 

The Burning Truck

 

It began at dawn with fighter planes:

they came in off the sea and didn’t rise,

they leaped the sandbar one and one and one

coming so fast the crockery they shook down

from off my shelves was spinning in the air

when they were gone.

 

They came in off the sea and drew a wave

of lagging cannon-shells across our roofs.

Windows spat glass, a truck took sudden fire,

out leaped the driver, but the truck ran on,

growing enormous, shambling by our street-doors,

coming and coming. …

 

By every right in town, by every average

we knew of in the world, it had to stop,

fetch up against a building, fall to rubble

from pure force of burning, for its whole

body and substance were consumed with heat …

but it would not stop.

 

And all of us who knew our place and prayers

clutched our verandah-rails and window-sills,

begging that truck between our teeth to halt,

keep going, vanish, strike … but set us free.

And then we saw the wild boys of the street

go running after it.

 

And as they followed, cheering, on it crept,

windshield melting now, canopy-frame a cage

torn by gorillas of flame, and it kept on

over the tramlines, past the church, on past

the last lit windows, and then out of the world

with its disciples.

 

               © Les Murray

                  from The Illex Tree (1965)

                  & Selected Poems: The Vernacular Republic (1976)

 

 

 

 

The Widower in the Country

 

I’ll get up soon, and leave my bed unmade.

I’ll go outside and split off kindling wood

from the yellow-box log that lies beside the gate,

and the sun will be high, for I get up late now.

 

I’ll drive my axe in the log and come back in

with my armful of wood, and pause to look across

the Christmas paddocks aching in the heat,

the windless trees, the nettles in the yard . . .

and then I’ll go in, boil water and make tea.

 

This afternoon, I’ll stand out on the hill

and watch my house away below, and how

the roof reflects the sun and makes my eyes

water and close on bright webbed visions smeared

on the dark of my thoughts to dance and fade away.

Then the sun will move on, and I will simply watch,

or work, or sleep. And evening will come on.

 

Coming on dark, I’ll go home, light the lamp

and eat my corned-beef supper, sitting there

at the head of the table. Then I’ll go to bed.

Last night I thought I dreamed – but when I woke

the screaming was only a possum ski-ing down

the iron roof on little moonlit claws.

 

               © Les Murray

                  from The Illex Tree (1965)

                  & Selected Poems: The Vernacular Republic (1976)

 

 

 

 

 

Spring Hail

 

       This is for spring and hail, that you may remember:

       for a boy long ago, and a pony that could fly.

 

We had huddled together a long time in the shed

in the scent of vanished corn and wild bush birds,

and then the hammering faltered, and the torn

cobwebs ceased their quivering and hung still

from the nested rafters. We became uneasy

at the silence that grew about us, and came out.

 

The beaded violence had ceased. Fresh-minted hills

smoked, and the heavens swirled and blew away.

The paddocks were endless again, and all around

leaves lay beneath their trees, and cakes of moss.

Sheep trotted and propped, and shook out ice from their wool.

The hard blue highway that had carried us there

fumed as we crossed it, and the hail I scooped

from underfoot still bore the taste of sky

and hurt my teeth, and crackled as we walked.

 

       This is for spring and hail, that you may remember

       a boy long ago, and a pony that could fly.

 

With the creak and stop of a gate, we started to trespass:

my pony bent his head and drank up grass

while I ate ice, and wandered, and ate ice.

There was a peach tree growing wild by a bank

and under it and round, sweet dented fruit

weeping pale juice amongst hail-shotten leaves,

and this I picked up and ate till I was filled.

 

I sat on a log then, listening with my skin

to the secret feast of the sun, to the long wet worms

at work in the earth, and, deeper down, the stones

beneath the earth, uneasy that their sleep

should be troubled by dreams of water soaking down,

and I heard with my ears the creek on its bed of mould

moving and passing with a mothering sound.

 

       This is for spring and hail, that you may remember

       a boy long ago on a pony that could fly.

 

My pony came up then and stood by me,

waiting to be gone. The sky was now

spotless from dome to earth, and balanced there

on the cutting-edge of mountains. It was time

to leap to the saddle and go, a thunderbolt whirling

sheep and saplings behind, and the rearing fence

that we took at a bound, and the old, abandoned shed

forgotten behind, and the paddock forgotten behind.

Time to shatter peace and lean into spring

as into a battering wind, and be rapidly gone.

 

It was time, high time, the highest and only time

to stand in the stirrups and shout out, blind with wind

for the height and clatter of ridges to be topped

and the racing downward after through the lands

of floating green and bridges and flickering trees.

It was time, as never again it was time

to pull the bridle up, so the racketing hooves

fell silent as we ascended from the hill

above the farms, far up to where the hail

formed and hung weightless in the upper air,

charting the birdless winds with silver roads

for us to follow and be utterly gone.

 

       This is for spring and hail, that you may remember

       a boy and a pony long ago who could fly.

 

               © Les Murray

                  from The Illex Tree (1965)

                  & Selected Poems: The Vernacular Republic (1976)

 

 

 

 

Senryu

 

Just two hours after

Eternal Life pills came out

someone took thirty.

 

               © Les Murray

                  from The Weatherboard Cathederal (1969)

                  & Selected Poems: The Vernacular Republic (1976)

 

 

 

The Quality Of Sprawl

 

Sprawl is the quality
of the man who cut down his Rolls-Royce
into a farm utility truck, and sprawl
is what the company lacked when it made repeated efforts
to buy the vehicle back and repair its image.

 

Sprawl is doing your farm work by aeroplane, roughly,
or driving a hitchhiker that extra hundred miles home.
It is the rococo of being your own still centre.
It is never lighting cigars with ten dollar notes:
that’s idiot ostentation and murder of starving people.
Nor can it be bought with the ash of million dollar deeds.

 

Sprawl lengthens the legs; it trains greyhounds on liver and beer.
Sprawl almost never says, Why not?, with palms comically raised
nor can it be dressed for, not even in running shoes worn
with mink and a nose ring. That is Society. That’s Style.
Sprawl is more like the thirteenth banana in a dozen
or anyway the fourteenth.

 

Sprawl is Hank Stamper in Never Give an Inch
bisecting an obstructive official’s desk with a chain saw.
Not harming the official. Sprawl is never brutal,
though it’s often intransigent. Sprawl is never Simon de Montfort
at a town-storming: Kill them all! God will know His own.
Knowing the man’s name this was said to might be sprawl.

 

Sprawl occurs in art. The fifteenth to twenty-first
lines in a sonnet, for example. And in certain paintings.
I have sprawl enough to have forgotten which paintings.
Turner’s glorious Burning of the Houses of Parliament
comes to mind, a doubling bannered triumph of sprawl –
except he didn’t fire them.

 

Sprawl gets up the noses of many kinds of people
(every kind that comes in kinds) whose futures don’t include it.
Some decry it as criminal presumption, silken-robed Pope Alexander
dividing the new world between Spain and Portugal.
If he smiled in petto afterwards, perhaps the thing did have sprawl.

 

Sprawl is really classless, though. It is John Christopher Frederick Murray
asleep in his neighbours’ best bed in spurs and oilskins,
but not having thrown up:
sprawl is never Calum, who, in the loud hallway of our house
reinvented the Festoon. Rather
it’s Beatrice Miles going twelve hundred ditto in a taxi,
No Lewd Advances, no Hitting Animals, no Speeding,
on the proceeds of her two-bob-a-sonnet Shakespeare readings.
An image of my country. And would thatit were more so.

 

No, sprawl is full gloss murals on a council-house wall.
Sprawl leans on things. It is loose-limbed in its mind.
Reprimanded and dismissed,
it listens with a grin and one boot up on the rail
of possibility. It may have to leave the Earth.
Being roughly Christian, it scratches the other cheek
And thinks it unlikely. Though people have been shot for sprawl.
 

 
               © Les Murray
                  from The People’s Other World (1983)

 

 

 

The Misery Cord

 

Misericord. The Misery Cord.

It was lettered on a wall.

I knew that cord, how it’s tough to break

however hard you haul.

 

My cousin sharefarmed, and so got half:

half dignity, half hope, half income,

for his full work. To get a place

of his own took his whole lifetime.

 

Some pluck the misery chord from habit

or for luck, whatever they feel,

some to deceive, and some for the tune —

but sometimes it’s real.

 

Milking bails, flannel shirts, fried breakfasts,

these were our element,

and doubling on horses, and shouting Score!

at a dog yelping on a hot scent,

 

but an ambulance racing on our back road

is bad news for us all:

the house of community is about

to lose a plank from its wall.

 

Grief is nothing you can do, but do;

worst work for least reward,

pulling your heart out through both eyes

with tugs of the misery cord.

 

I looked at my cousin’s farm, where he’d just

built his family a house of their own,

and I looked down into Fred’s next house,

its clay walls of bluish maroon.

 

Just one man has snapped the misery cord

and lived. He said once was enough.

A poem is an afterlife on earth:

Christ grant us the other half.

 

               © Les Murray

                  from The Daylight Moon (1987)

 

 

 

To Fly In Just Your Suit

 

Humans are flown, or fall;
humans can’t fly.
We’re down with the gravity-stemmers,
rare, thick-boned, often basso.

 
Most animals above the tides are airborne.
Typically tuned keen, they
throw the ground away with wire feet
and swoop rings round it.
 
Magpies, listening askance
for their food in and under lawn,
strut so hair-trigger they almost
dangle on earth, out of the air.
 
Nearly anything can make their
tailcoats break into wings.
 
               © Les Murray
                  from Poems the Size of Photographs (2002)     

 

Read more Les Murray poems on this website at:

http://andrewlansdown.com/favourite-poems/les-murray/

 

 

Read an article on the poetry of Les Murray published in The New Yorker in 2007: http://www.newyorker.com/arts/critics/books/2007/06/11/070611crbo_books_chiasson?printable=true

 

Visit Les Murray’s website at: http://www.lesmurray.org/index.htm

 

 

Return to FELLOW WRITERS