Subhuman Redneck Poems

Les A. Murray, Author
Les A. Murray, Author Farrar Straus Giroux $18 (103p) ISBN 978-0-374-27155-8
Paperback - 114 pages - 978-0-374-52538-5
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This prolific and award-winning Australian poet (22 volumes in his own country, six published in England and the U.S., including Dog Fox Field, 1992) writes with the gusto of an oxherder. This volume with its catchy title is marked by the enthusiasms of a nationalist, post-colonial leader who sometimes deploys the humor and robustness characteristic of much of Murray's work: ""We are the Australians. Our History is short./ This makes pastry chefs snotty and racehorses snort."" But more often, his gifts are drowned out by jingoistic bluster and what's left is a song of despairing righteousness, rhythmically dull: ""We were the proletarian evolution,/ a lot of us. We've been the future/ of many snobbish nations,/ but now the elite Revolution/ that rules unsullied by elections/ has no use for us."" The less public poems, such as ""The Last Hellos,"" ""The Year of the Kiln Portraits"" and ""The Sand Coast Sonnets"" approach the sharp-etched wonder that Murray is often capable of expressing: ""Glorious on a brass day the boiling up/ from the south, of a storm above those paddocks/ of shoal-creamed, wake-dolphined water"" (""Wallis Lake Estuary""). But this collection sounds overwhelmingly as if it were written for a political committee. Though the moral poise is admirable, its art is not very moving. (May)
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