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JM Coetzee on the "angry genius" of Les MurraySarah Crown
Wednesday 14 September 2011 13.10 BST
Wonderful New York Review of Books piece about The Angry Genius of Les Murray, by none other than JM Coetzee.
I first came across Murray at university, when we were set a poem of his, "Comete". Brief (13-and-half lines; a not-quite sonnet) and simple, it fixes on a single image: "Uphill in Melbourne on a beautiful day" it opens, airy and light as a feather, "a woman is walking ahead of her hair." I found the combination of its clear focus and rippling, rich metaphors haunting, and in the years since have pounced on everything else by him that crossed my path.
Coetzee's piece, then, is a real treat for me. A 4000-word consideration of the muscular talent of the son of New South Wales dairy farmers, who said of himself "it's my mission to irritate the hell out of the eloquent who would oppress my people, by being a paradox that their categories can't assimilate: the Subhuman Redneck who writes poems", it's a fine piece of criticism: sympathetic, celebratory, but at the same time clear-eyed, alive to the poet's blindspots and inconsistencies. Though only lukewarm about Murray's recent output ("the new poems have the feel less of urgent utterances than of demonstration exercises in how a poet's gaze works"), his admiration for the poet is clear. "If there are a handful of purists who for political reasons will have nothing to do with him or his works," he concludes, "so much the worse for them — the loss is theirs.
Hear, hear. If you don't know his work, I'd seriously urge you to have a flick through the 'poems' section of his website, and take a look at this piece by Daljit Nagra, from the Guardian Review not two weeks ago, in which he explains why Murray is his poetry hero.