arts & letters — poetry again, any number of ways to see them, any number of things to say. Never the same river twice. This aspect of Murray’s poetry – its energetic, protean inexhaustibility – frustrates the standard practice of picking out a handful of poems to speak for the rest. To discuss a poem or any of its actions feels, with this particular poet, particularly arbitrary: it is to omit, unconscionably, almost everything. One thinks of Newton picking up beach pebbles; it would be as if, thereby, he claimed possession of the whole great ocean of truth. So what I decided to do was read the collection as curated chronology. Start to finish: try to arrive at a sense of the larger, lifelong course. And what a read it was. Ridiculous, I know, to claim credit for actually reading, cover to cover, a book you’re paid to write about, but I did and I do and I can tell you this: Don’t do it! It’ll tax not just your neck and carpal tunnel tendons – I ended up reading it in bed, lying prone, pen in hand, like a journalling teenager – but your mental resilience too. There’s such a thing as too much Les. of 20 or so quatrains, tolled by the thudding refrain, “Axe-fall, echo and silence,” you can see – hear – Murray clearing for himself a “dreaming silence” out of the “unhuman silence” of his country – a space in which he will do his life’s work. Job done: “I shoulder my axe and set off home through the stillness.” What follows is work that ranges self-reliantly through time, geography, memory, history and art, yet never shakes off this rural flavour, nor wants to. To scan the poems is to fall into vernacular rhythms backgrounded by the varied gaits and tempos of farm animals, the heavy idle and revving and fuel-cough of tractors, bulldozers, combine seeders, dragline scoops. “All days were work days on the farm”, claims one poem; another refers to “farming’s fourteen-hour days”. And work lies at the heart of Murray’s body of work. In the exterior sense that the prolific poet is still the farmboy for whom energy is non-optional – Murray has vouched that if a poem fails, he tackles it afresh, works it through and through till it’s done. But more importantly, internally: A Murraian poem is worked, is almost machined, subjected to extraordinary energy and pressure until it sets into the required compression, complexity, precision, play and surprise. Its lines are made of higher-grade stuff. This conversion is embodied, perhaps, the moment poem-Murray grabs a live wire in “The Powerline Incarnation”: At first, even as each poem from its opening line seems to blush its primal influence – “The Burning Truck”, Auden; “Tableau in January”, Lawrence; “The Trainee, 1914”, Sassoon; “The Widower in the Country”, Yeats – you’re aware of a sensibility so selfconfident it’s already brinking on sovereignty. The next poem, “Noonday Axeman”, tips it over. Over the space Not at first. The Monthly Hr. New episode – OUT NOW Tim Winton on saving Australia’s other great reef Listen to the magazine. The Monthly Hour. A podcast. Available on iTunes, Google Podcasts, Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. 71
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