Saturday, June 07, 2008

An Interesting Poet

We associate the depiction of rural life with pastoral, a mode that was shaped by city sensibilities for city audiences. Pastoral is a sophisticated game pitting poets against earlier poets, like a chess match played across time. No poet writing about the natural world entirely opts out of the game, but Murray’s poetry of elk and emus, bougainvillea and turmeric dust, comes close. For the sheer scarcity of its flora and fauna, this pastoral feels pretty far off the Virgilian grid. No poet who was “kept poor,” as Murray believes he and his parents were, sees “nature”—droughts and floods, the relentless summer heat on an uninsulated iron roof—in celebratory terms. Indeed, since the poverty that Murray suffered was an enforced poverty, it is hard even to see “nature” in natural terms. Nature, for him, is the field where human motives, often sinister, play out. New York Times

Just got turned on to an interesting poet, Les Murray, from Australia....

The Shining Slopes and Planes

Having tacked loose tin panels
of the car shed together
Peter the carpenter walks straight up
the ladder, no hands,
and buttons down lapels of the roof.

Now his light weight is on the house
overhead, and then he's back down
bearing long straps of a wiry green
Alpine grass, root-woven, fine as fur
that has grown in our metal rain gutters.

Bird-seeded, or fetched by the wind
it has had twenty years up there
being nourished on cloud-dust, on washings
of radiant iron, on nesting debris
in which pinch-sized trees had also sprouted.

Now it tangles on the ground. And the laundry
drips jowls of coloured weight
below one walking stucco stucco
up and down overlaps, to fix
the biplane houses of Australia

The House Left in English

The house has stopped its desperate travelling.
It won't fly to New Orleans, or to Hungary again,
though it counts, and swears, in Magyar.

It is left in English with its life suspended,
meals in the freezer, clothes on airy shelves,
ski badges prickling a wall chart of the Alps.

The house plays radio, its lights clock on and off
but it won't answer the phone, even in Swiss German.
Since the second recession of helped steps

the house quotes from its life and can't explain:
dress-cutter's chalk. Melbourne Cup day 1950.
Alphorn skullcaps. Wartime soy flour, with an onion!

All earlier houses and times, in black and white,
are boxed by aged children visiting to dust this one
on its leafy corner and still, for a while, in colour.

New York Times article on the poet Les Murray.
Listen to Les Murrary read his poems here

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