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Les Murray


Leslie Allan Murray was born October 17, 1938, in Bunyah, New South Wales, Australia. He attended the University of Sydney where he studied modern languages, worked as a translator, and served in the Royal Australian Naval Reserve.

His poetry collections include Waiting for the Past: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016); The Biplane Houses (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007); Poems the Size of Photographs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004); Learning Human: Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000), which was shortlisted for the International Griffin Poetry Prize; and Subhuman Redneck Poems (Duffy & Snellgrove, 1996), winner of the 1996 T. S. Eliot Prize. His many awards include the Queens Gold Medal for Poetry, awarded to him in 1999 on the recommendation of Ted Hughes.

Murray also published two verse novels: The Boys Who Stole the Funeral (Cancarnet Press, 1989), and Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999), which centers around the picaresque life of German-Australian sailor Friedrich Boettcher, a kind of Nordic hero who witnesses and records, in the demotic style, the foibles of his age.

About his work a reviewer for The Guardian wrote: "The great bulk of Murray's poetry [is] unlike anything else in the world of modern writing. It is above controversy, about modernism and traditionalism and remains a challenge to whatever is left of contemporary commitment to verse." Murray has said that he has a "vital interest in giving utterance and form to hitherto unexpressed elements of Australian mind and character" while drawing inspiration from "Australian landscape, folklore, history, war, technology, deserts."

He was formerly the editor of Poetry Australia and is currently the editor of Quadrant Magazine. He has given readings, lectures and talks in Australia, Britain, Europe, and the United States. Murray died on April 29, 2019.

Selected Bibliography

Subhuman Redneck Poems (Duffy & Snellgrove, 1996)
Learning Human: Selected Poems (Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 2000)
Poems the Size of Photographs (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2004)
The Biplane Houses (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007)
Waiting for the Past: Poems (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2016)

The Boys Who Stole the Funeral (Cancarnet Press, 1989)
Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1999)

By This Poet


The New Hieroglyphics

In the World language, sometimes called
Airport Road, a thinks balloon with a gondola
under it is a symbol for speculation.

Thumbs down to ear and tongue:
World can be written and read, even painted
but not spoken. People use their own words.

Latin letters are in it for names, for e.g.
OK and H2SO4, for musical notes,
but mostly it's diagrams: skirt-figure, trousered figure

have escaped their toilet doors. I (that is, saya,
ego, watashi wa) am two eyes without pupils;
those aren't seen when you look out through them.

You has both pupils, we has one, and one blank.
Good is thumbs up, thumb and finger zipping lips
is confidential. Evil is three-cornered snake eyes.

The effort is always to make the symbols obvious: 
the bolt of electricity, winged stethoscope of course
for flying doctor. Pram under fire? Soviet film industry.

Pictographs also shouldn't be too culture-bound: 
a heart circled and crossed out surely isn't.
For red, betel spit lost out to ace of diamonds.

Black is the ace of spades. The king of spades
reads Union boss, the two is feeble effort.
If is the shorthand Libra sign, the scales.

Spare literal pictures render most nouns and verbs
and computers can draw them faster than Pharough's scribes.
A bordello prospectus is as explicit as the action,

but everywhere there's sunflower talk, i.e.
metaphor, as we've seen. A figure riding a skyhook
bearing food in one hand is the pictograph for grace,

two animals in a book read Nature, two books
inside an animal, instinct. Rice in bowl with chopsticks
denotes food. Figure 1 lying prone equals other.

Most emotions are mini-faces, and the speech
balloon is ubiquitous. A bull inside one is dialect
for placards inside one. Sun and moon together

inside one is poetry. Sun and moon over palette,
over shoes etc. are all art forms--but above
a cracked heart and champagne glass? Riddle that

and you're starting to think in World, whose grammar
is Chinese-terse and fluid. Who needs the square-
equals-diamond book, the dictionary, to know figures

led by strings to their genitals mean fashion?
just as a skirt beneath a circle means demure
or a similar circle shouldering two arrows is macho.

All peoples are at times cat in water with this language
but it does promote international bird on shoulder.
This foretaste now lays its knife and fork parallel.

Photographing Aspirations

Fume-glossed, unbearably shrill,
this car is dilated with a glaze
that will vanish before standstill—

and here's the youth swimming in space
above his whiplash motorcycle:
quadriplegia shows him its propped face—

after, he begged video scenes
not display his soaking jeans,
urine that leathers would have hidden

and the drag cars have engines on their engines.