Poetry goes to the backwater to refresh itself as often as it goes to the mainstream, a fact that partly explains the appeal of Les Murray, the celebrated “bush bard” of Bunyah, New South Wales, Australia. The son of a poor farmer, Murray, who was not schooled formally until he was nine, is now routinely mentioned among the three or four leading English-language poets. Because in Murray’s poetry you learn, for example, that there exists such a thing as the “creamy shitwood tree,” he has been mistaken for a neutral cartographer of far-flung places. But the key to Murray, what makes him so exasperating to read one minute and thrilling the next, is not landscape but rage. “How naturally random recording edges into contempt,” Murray writes, identifying the poles of his own combustible poetic temperament.
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