POEMS THE SIZE OF PHOTOGRAPHS

Les A. Murray, Author
Les A. Murray, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $23 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-23520-8
Reviewed on: 04/21/2003
Release date: 04/01/2003
Hardcover - 106 pages - 978-1-876631-23-9
Paperback - 115 pages - 978-0-374-52881-2
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Murray has gathered fans (and opponents) since the 1970s, when he began to depict pastures, forests and suburbs—along with a strenuously contrarian politics—in lanky, confident free verse, giving a sound to the "sprawl" that for him defines Australia. Murray made waves worldwide with the book-length Fredy Neptune (1999) and the selection Learning Human (2000), then responded to a life-threatening illness in the uneven, sometimes cranky Conscious and Verbal (2001). His new volume returns to that short descriptive poems link his eco-friendly Catholic worldview to the sights and sounds of Australian locales: "That hawk, clinging to/ the eaves of the wind, beating/ its third wing, its tail// isn't mine to sell." Murray's tones range from bluff declaration to saddened retrospection—sometimes combining the two, as in a memory of a "live Christmas tree" "when it shed its brittle bells/ and the drought sun bore down like dementia." Pointed quips against globalization ("the flag of the West is now a gourmet tablecloth") sit easily by native Australian legends in Murray's retellings, which try to celebrate "every vernacular and variant// the world reach of English would present." Yet Murray works best when his poems resemble snapshots not just in size but in aim, giving us not only his unmistakably assertive personality, but something to see—a ramshackle house, an emblematic tree, or the shrubbery at the end of the volume, its growth "like flowers still partying/ when their dress has gone home." (Apr.)

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