With Les Murray, you have to get the speed

Les_MurrayIn the majesty of his years and accomplishments, Les Murray, sole author of the several increasingly massive editions of his New Collected Poems – one of the great books of the modern world – is in the position of a monarch who, having successfully constructed Versailles all on his own, is now pottering in the grounds building sheds. Six years ago The Biplane Houses was such a shed, and very prettily done. Now Taller When Prone is another. Perhaps I would not have had the idea of an enormous building and its satellite bâtiments if the first poem in the new book had not been about the Taj Mahal. The poem, called “From a Tourist Journal” starts like this.

In a precinct of liver stone, high
On its dais, the Taj seems bloc hail.

Immediately he’s got you in. He has always been able to do that. The way he can register, in words nobody else would quite choose, a perception nobody else could quite have, is at the centre of his art, ensuring almost infallibly that a poem will work like a lucky charm for as long as he pours in the images. A Taj made of hail: you and I might say that we would have seen that to be true eventually, and we might even argue learnedly that the word “Mahal” phonically suggested the word “hail” (points for an essay there), but the daunting truth is that he doesn’t just think that way, he sees that way.

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