74 post- tempering of rage. (This the collection that brought us “Sex is a Nazi” and “Most Culture has been an East German plastic bag / pulled over our heads”.) What stands out for me, however, is that, across half a century, the architecture beneath the rage remains fixed. Mature Murray still works around the first broad beams of his self-myth, which were all founded upon the same juvenile substructure: his sense of The early death of his mother by miscarriage he blames on a doctor’s class-based snobbery (and his father’s class-based reticence). The destruction of his sexual morale, or self-coined “erocide”, he blames on bullying at school on account of his weight and smarts. (Disturbingly, there are more than a few psychosocial parallels between Murray’s “erocide” and the modern “incel” movement.) I’m oversimplifying what is an idiosyncratically complex politics. But throughout his poetry – and prose – Murray can be relied upon to sketch a life as underdog, a life of second-class treatment on the grounds of being rural, provincial, poor, white, fat, mentally ill, working class, traditional, self-employed, nonacademic, nationalist, Christian, Catholic. And this picture never really changes. From this view, Murray’s work is less a river than a lake – and one gone slightly whiffy from lack of circulation. men exude their inner showers on the sauna’s wooden shelves. Heads are calm in the laundry-boiling of the spa And a rare drip falls bling! from the loose leaves of the ceiling. Subhuman This first stanza, to me, is classic Murray in its harmonising of rightness and surprise of image, rhythm, abstraction, perspective, emotion. It is beautifully perceived, almost more affective because of its distance. Then “A nonwhite family comes in”. What ensues over the next four stanzas is classic “narrowspeak” Murray: a polemic about “Race”, indicting “Intellectuals” who invented it as weapon for the “Modern” to exploit “Primitives”. As a result: “Anything these brown folk say, any hurt in their eyes / may be used against us.” Who is “us”? Ordinary white people, of course, whom Murray typically centres as victims – of elites and immigrants alike. I don’t object to the poem having politics; I object to its politics hijacking its poetry. In a interview, Murray objects to T.S. Eliot’s politics but nevertheless concedes, “He won me with his poetry.” Ultimately, even at its narrowest, Murray’s poetry is a thing of energy and skill. At its broadest, it is a new way of seeing, and it is the living thing that needs to be seen, and it is enlivening to see. ex cathedra relegation. Paris Review If he began at the margins, he has, in the way of all great artists, created his own gravity, constituted his own centre. grinning, in great humour. The two other times he’s been on the covers of his own books, his expression has been detached, mildly dissentious. To read too much into too little, maybe things are finally different now. He must have a say, you’d think, in his covers. Maybe he’s finally putting relegation behind him. After all, the subhuman redneck has come a long way. He’s the Bard of his own Adamic vernacular republic. He’s been invited to rewrite the national Constitution, to consult for the national dictionary, edit national anthologies. He’s surely published more Selecteds and Collecteds than any other Australian poet. Even running his “export business” out of his room in Bunyah, he’s managed to agglomerate prizes and premios and medals from all around the world. If he began at the margins, he has, in the way of all great artists, created his own gravity, constituted his own centre. There he sits, in that famous ribbed jumper, flecked and pilled, neck stretched out of shape from all the times the great head has been through it, almost formal atop the two shyly peeking collar points. Not a hint of scunge, of wearing shorts forever. Here is sprawl but it’s checked and camoed, incog. Underdog? He’s top dog now, and he’s fine with it. There he sits, In “Satis Passio”, Murray states that “Art is what can’t be summarised”. But his polemical poetry does just that: the poems and contiguous prose comprise a CliffsNotes of semiotic summary. No doubt is admitted: Murray even invents a personal jargon (wholespeak, narrowspeak, poeme, interest, erocide, embodiment, presence, groover, Enlightenment, Sinless, Action, Ascendancy) that operates to almost fully squash negative capability. My earlier statement that Murray’s work speaks for itself doesn’t entirely apply to these polemics. That they’re offered with vim and verve doesn’t mean they don’t sacrifice valencies: the result is less Murray’s “wholespeak” – the language of the soul – than the language of student politics from the class of 1968. Take “The Great Hall of Chlorine” poem): (a post- Subhuman It is the great hall of Chlorine, the Aquatic Centre. Light shaking all over the walls, people of bleach and biscuit pad on raw feet and children splat diamante. Many intently surge out of deep trampolines of wavering. Women adjust harness, some karate-chop at speed; M Les Murray’s is published by Black Inc. Collected Poems arts & letters — poetry
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