The Monthly : 2018-12-01

FRONT PAGE : 75 : 75


arts & letters — poetry own logic: each comprises a linguistic “heterocosm” – an alternativ­e world, a second nature – in which Murray can somehow translate non-human presence into intelligib­le plangency. It’s impossible to read “Pigs” or “The Cows on Killing Day” without feeling, as a human, a stricken species-shame. What happens, then, when humans present? Here’s a goodly snippet from “The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle”: The song cycle is a paean to the natural world (one whole song is dedicated to the mosquito) but also, this time, to the people in it. In long, serpentine lines, Murray works his convergenc­e of place and peoples – Aboriginal, rural, and urban – and their ways of being, of being with the land. The presiding attitude is love, not passionate eros (never that with Murray) but insouciant agape, casual caritas. A holiday park is made, through sacral incantatio­n, no less sacred a site than anything around or before it; this is done in diction inspired in part by R.M. Berndt’s translatio­n of the Wonguri-Mandjigai “Song Cycle of the Moon-Bone” but also from the headiest bits of the Book of Job (as voiced by God). Never have I read an Australian poetry that so naturally, easefully, unselfcons­ciously and unironical­ly builds the condition of myth. As long as we’re making grand claims, here’s mine: “The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle” is the seminal poem of modern Australia. And, poetry being a game of neither stamina nor averages, if it had been the only poem Les Murray wrote, whatever chapbook or pamphlet it was published in would nonetheles­s be, yes, one of the great books of the modern world. are Dogs are running around disjointed­ly; water escapes from their mouths, confused emotions from their eyes; humans snarl at them Gwanout and Hereboy, not varying their tone much; the impoverish­ed dog people, suddenly sitting down to nuzzle themselves; toddlers side with them: toddlers, running away purposeful­ly at random, among cars, into big drownie water (come back, Cheryl-Ann!). They rise up as charioteer­s, leaning back on the tow-bar; all their attributes bulge at once: swapping swash shoulder-wings for the white-sheeted shoes that bear them, they are skidding over the flat glitter, stiff with grace, for once not travelling to arrive. he wrote a few more poems. Reading through them, we mark some trends of concern (old age, success), some trimming of capacity (he’s moved away, ever since 1996’s from these prodigious, freewheeli­ng sequences). We note the much-noted Of course, Subhuman Redneck Poems, 73

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