I love Midnight Voices!
Clive James - Les Murray (1938-2019)
« : 12.06.19 at 19:20 »
Clive James on saving figure skating—and why poet Les Murray should have won the Nobel
When I first read Les Murray's poetry, an unfamiliar feeling of humility overwhelmed me
by Clive James / June 11, 2019
|Les Murray (1938-2019) |
The greatest Australian poet, Les Murray, died in Australia during the English night. I was surprised by the tinge of anger in my grief when I heard that Les was gone. Finally I’ve traced this anger to its source; a general feeling that my old friends are checking out and leaving me alone. How dare they? But then I realise that they have gone beyond caring what I think.
The BBC was the first on the phone to ask me for an interview. Unfortunately, with all my facial injuries, I would have sounded as if I’d drunk myself to sleep, so I regretfully declined. Since it wasn’t the last request, let these paragraphs serve to answer them all. It’s important to say at least something, because Les himself was always the hulking incarnation of professional courtesy. As poetry editor of Quadrant magazine, he was famous among Australian poets for giving his opinion of their manuscripts within a month, instead of, like other poetry editors, after a decade. Apart from making the long flight from Bunyah to Buckingham Palace to receive the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry from the Queen herself, Les turned up on the night for all the other prizes that he won, which is more than you can say for Bob Dylan. Some of us will go to our graves thinking it should have been Les who got the Nobel Prize, but no doubt Dylan will make good use of the extra few million dollars.
Les Murray was a great poet from his first day on the job. Back there at Sydney University a thousand years ago I was literary editor of the student newspaper Honi Soit and thus well placed to print my own contributions. I had no conscience in the matter, and no qualms about appearing to rule the roost, but when that first poem arrived from Les, I saw immediately that he had something none of the rest of us had. An unfamiliar feeling of humility overwhelmed me.
It was a poem about three starlings and a crippled thief. “The starlings wandered / Till three hawks took them / And now my agents / Have caught the cripple.” I never forgot that poem, and afterwards I made a point of reading everything else he wrote. It’s a task that has taken me all his lifetime and nearly all of mine.