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The Biplane Houses: Poems Hardcover – May 29, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
The latest from Australia's most eminent living poet may be his best since 1999's Fredy Neptune. Perennially rumored for the Nobel shortlist, Murray pursues in off-rhymed stanzas and confident verse-paragraphs his signature mix of subjects: rural Australia and the dignity of rural labor; his own Scottish-Australian farming heritage and Catholic faith; the bounty and diversity of nature; the hypocrisy, cruelty and self-destructive overconfidence of cosmopolitan, secular civilization. Murray's vivid world includes unparalleled descriptions of flora and fauna—dolphins, like 3D surfboards/ born in the ocean—and quips about social class, housing, transport, belief and doubt, with some insights no one else could have: Whatever the great religions offer/ it is afterlife their people want. His lines, as always, are mouthfuls, sometimes awkward, sometimes winning in their sheer force. Though he can be unfair to his political targets—satirizing gentrifical force (i.e., gentrification, bourgeois tastes, hipness) as if it were a horseman of the apocalypse—the emotion is genuine and carries with it not only a defense of working people's farms, of beautiful innocents and unpretentious families, but a very modern understanding of the ways in which our modern lifestyles have put our planet at risk. (June)
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“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.” ―The Guardian
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"But tears underlie every country. Nowhere do they
discharge the past, which is the live dark matter
that flows undismissably with us, and impends
unseen over every point we reach."
Murray renders landscapes tangible, images that seduce with subtlety, yet paint a stunning portrait grounded in reality:
"Haze went from smoke blue to beige
gradually, after midday.
The Inland was passing over
High up, and between the trees.
The north hills and the south hills
Lost focus and faded away."
(A Levitation of Land)
Contrasting with the poetry that explores the sensory world, a celebration of out natural environment and a caution toward preservation, the poet displays a sharp and canny wit, undeterred from humorous musings:
"Fragrance stays measured
stench bloats out of proportion:
even a rat-size death...
a house-evacuating metal gas
in our sinuses..
give it a Viking funeral."
(The Nostril Songs)
As well the poet is a master of punsmanship, a provocateur of twisted metaphors:
"A rhyme is a pun that knows where
to stop. Puns pique us with the glare
of worlds too coherent to bear
by any groan person."
(Black Belt in Martial Arts)
A man who appreciates the beauty of nature and the history imbued in place, Murray creates streams of images prompted by the past in league with the present:
"Greeks camped out there in lean times
fishing. Their Greek islands lived in town
with their families. Now it is a National Park."
(The Offshore Island)
In "The Cool Green", Murray writes of money, its power to influence behavior, the fact that "millions eat garbage without it", its facile misuse of those in need, its irrelevance to life's grand design:
"Our waking dreams feature money everywhere
but in our sleeping dreams
it is strange and rare.
How did money capture life
away from poetry, ideology, religion?
It didn't want our souls."
The treasure of New South Wales, Les Murray captures the spirit of language in poetry that assails, provokes and haunts, his love of place rich with memory and image, evoking our finer instincts, cautioning an appreciation for the diminishing bounty of a fertile and precious earth. Luan Gaines/2007.