About Les Murray

Les Murray (1938 – 2019) grew up the only son of poor farmers in a remote valley in New South Wales. It was a hard background but one that instilled in him a love of the landscape and people of rural Australia which informed his poetry ever since. Despite unhappy times in his final school, Murray won a scholarship to the University of Sydney. His first published collection, The Ilex Tree, (co-published with Geoffrey Lehmann) appeared in 1965 and was followed by a steady succession of books that built Murray a formidable reputation as his country’s unofficial national poet. Having lived in Sydney for many years, in 1988 Murray returned to live near his childhood home.

The influences and oppositions discernible in Murray’s work – love of the land, the tensions between rural and urban life, the struggle for an independent means of expression – are forces that have also shaped modern Australian culture and perhaps help explain both his widespread appeal and the controversy he sometimes attracts. What’s not in dispute is the fecundity of his language: “We are a language species” he says (‘Employment for the Castes in Abeyance’) and he often writes in a rich torrent of words like a latter-day Elizabethan, delighting in puns, allusion, alliteration and learning. He started professional life as a translator and, in effect, continued in this role, pushing language to capture experience that is usually beyond our human radar, like the “queer/tonal hunting zone” of ‘Bats’ Ultrasound’. When the occasion demands though, Murray can also be movingly simple as in his elegy to his father ‘The Last Hellos’ which draws on the “rough bush working man’s language” they spoke to one another. Murray’s often spacious poems are a celebration of creation – his collections subsequent to his conversion to Roman Catholicism have been dedicated simply “to the glory of God” – but they are also catholic with a small “c” embracing high culture and fireside yarn, strict form and free verse with equal facility and enthusiasm.

Murray was a well-known reader of his own work, his dry charm and understated style giving voice to the independent spirit of his poems.

His recording was made for The Poetry Archive on 22 October 2001 at The Audio Workshop, London and was produced by Richard Carrington.

Les Murray’s Favourite Poetry Sayings:

“Australia was ruled by poetry for tens of thousands of years – prose only became its ruling principle after settlement in 1788.” – Les Murray

“Religions are big slow poems, while most poems are short, fast religions.” – Les Murray

Awards

1996 T.S. Eliot Prize (winner), Subhuman Redneck Poems

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