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Les Murray
at the
complete review:

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Name: Leslie Allan ("Les") MURRAY
Nationality: Australian
Born: 17 October 1938
Died: 29 April 2019
Awards: Petrarch Award (1995)
T.S.Eliot Prize (1996)
Queen's Gold Medal (1998)
Queensland Premier's Prize (1999)

  • Attended Sydney University
  • Translator, Australian National University (1963-7)
  • Editor, Poetry Australia (1973-9)

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Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review

Please note that this bibliography is not complete.

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What others have to
say about
Les Murray:

  • "Because Les Murray fills his poems with direct references to Australia and its rural past, he is often championed as not only the country's national spokesperson but also its best poet. However, when placed in the context of contemporary American poetry and judged solely on its artistic resource, Murray's poems do not distinguish themselves. Murray has not developed a unique approach to the line or advanced a singular vision." - Virginia Quarterly Review (Summer/1992)

  • "Mr Murray has no time for the fashionable preoccupations of academic critics or for the dead-end road of existentialism. His is a Christian vision (he converted to Catholicism in his teens), and his poetry is a continuous celebration of the world in all its multifariousness. Poetry is the best medium for this sort of thing, he says. Prose serves for day-to-day communication, but not for the more sacred things of life." - The Economist (5/6/1993)

  • "Murray has long been both a vigorous champion of a vernacular Australian poetry and deeply suspicious of the forms of linguistic coercion which often go hand in hand with the ideologies mentioned above. For this he has been called a conservative poet, usually by his detractors. But considering that his political conservatism consists mainly in the assertion that his European origins don't negate his Australianness; that his anti-feminism is a perfectly legitimate opposition, however crudely expressed, to abortion; and that his religious traditionalism is a basic loyalty to his Catholic upbringing, this is not necessarily such a terrible thing." - Elizabeth Lowry, Times Literary Supplement (10/1/1997)

  • "You can see why the British love Les Murray. He fulfills every British cliché about Australians -- rough-mannered, Ur-Other rubes in the wilderness, the bastard progeny of jailer and jailed, they're the Empire's loyal second-raters. The Australian identity is one of Murray's favorite subjects. He's no joiner, and loathes people who are -- gritty, doomed independence is another Australian cliché. (...) Murray has the scope and restless bearing of Auden -- he's not afraid of subject, and will tackle any old thing" - William Logan, The New Criterion (6/1997)

  • "(T)here's never been a poet with less literary side than him, in manner, looks or language. He never preens his words when he reads them as if they've been chosen with special care. To discover the quieter, slower things about him, you have to re-read the poems in the sequestered hush of your own room. And then re-read them -- and astonish yourself." - Michael Glover, The New Statesman (31/7/1998)

  • "In Australia, Les Murray comes as close as possible, in these culturally fragmented times, to occupying the position of a truly national poet. As Robert Frost and Victor Hugo were once widely recognized as crystallizing a native ethos, so is Murray in his continent-sized homeland." - Albert Mobilio, The New York Times Book Review (12/3/2000)

  • "(I)t would be hard to think of a contemporary poet more insistent on his rootedness, his tribal loyalties. The battery of his art is charged by the positive and negative legacies of Bunyah, New South Wales, his childhood home: love for its landscape, its people and vernacular and working-class ethos; and hostility bordering on hatred for citified pretension, ideology, snobbery. (...) At their extremes, Murray's praise and condemnation can sour into piety and resentment; but in the broad median of his art, he is a poet of great linguistic power and moral energy." - Adam Kirsh, The New Republic (12/6/2000)

  • "Such countervailing technique crossed with poised, graceful sound-patterning prove once again that, despite the possibilities his compatriots have discovered in poststructuralist poetics over the past thirty years, Les Murray is the Australian poet to listen out for, his handle on the language and the craft beyond others' reach or grasp." - Steven Matthews, Times Literary Supplement (25/8/2000)

  • "Sometimes he is belligerent, and even on his own terms he is breaking down an open door; some of his doggerel is quite bad. But Murray has invented his own forms and his own poetry, and in it one finds the cruelty and grandeur of life in words not severed from music." - Bruce F. Murphy, Poetry (1/2001)

  • "Les Murray's poetry is earthy and airy at once: a dense product spun of gossamer ideals. It's also devoutly and insistently Australian in a way that can be hard for a non-Aussie to approach -- but worth the effort." - Emily Nussbaum, The New York Times Book Review (6/1/2002)

  • "Murray has frequently been at his best when tracing the workings of his thoughts. (...) Murray's penchant for provocative statement, coupled with his politics -- most notably his questioning of multiculturism -- have made him Australia's most controversial poet as well as her best known." - William Wootten, Times Literary Supplement (24/1/2003)

  • "His verse is profoundly democratic. There is no subject natural to it because all subjects seem natural to it. Its language too has a kind of baggy, inclusive breadth and depth. At it best, it has a child-like freshness and simplicity." - Michael Glover, The Independent (11 March 2003)

  • "After arguing with my mutinous allegiance, I have concluded that the great bulk of Murray's poetry (550 pages in this New Collected) is, for better or for worse, 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." - Peter Porter, The Guardian (15/3/2003)

  • "Few poets have anything like the facility and range of Les Murray. Other than Auden, who else of the past fifty years has moved so freely and confidently - altering his voice as each occasion demands -- from one poetic form to another ? The variety is dazzling. Murray is as recognizable for the spacious quality found in his early poems as he is for the brilliance of his abundant word-play; for his "postcards", limericks and neatly barbed squibs, as for his encyclopedic narrative verse." - Oliver Dennis, Times Literary Supplement (11/8/2006)

  • "But the key to Murray, what makes him so exasperating to read one minute and thrilling the next, is not landscape but rage. (…) Murray’s poems, never exactly intimate and often patrolled by details and place-names nearly indecipherable to an outsider, reflect a life lived self-consciously and rather flamboyantly off the beaten track. (…) Reckless, cantankerous, emboldened by a world view based on sexual resentment, Murray is (as he is the first to acknowledge) a cartoon hick in an overplayed idiom. Yet the perversities of his own position (both "redneck" and élite, settler and indigene, "English" poet and Bunyah farmer) make him seem to many of his countrymen all the more authentically "Australian." " - Dan Chiasson, The New Yorker (11/6/2007)

  • "The best writer of poetry in English is a farm boy by origin, a resolute non-leftist by politics, a Catholic by religion and an Australian by nationality. None of those qualities, singly or in combination, necessarily qualifies anybody to be a poet. But of course, poets don't answer to job descriptions. (...) Murray, it's true, is uneven, not because he is capable of writing badly, but because his poems are sometimes flecked with unexplained localisms, or crash-land on the page devoid of recognizable context. But this hardly matters: His prosodic grammar is so kinetically and passionately charged that nouns and adjectives become verbs." - Fraser Sutherland, The Globe & Mail (4/8/2007)

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Pros and Cons
of the author's work:

  • Excellent ear for language
  • Prolific -- and varied output
  • Often shows a sense of humour
  • Firm convictions (that might not be to everyone's taste) forcefully expressed

  • Some of the poems lost in language and excess
  • Occasional bitterness
  • Firm convictions (that might not be to everyone's taste) forcefully expressed
  • Limited availability of much of the work outside Australia

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the complete review's Opinion

     Les Murray is a leading English-language poet, his work strongly coloured by his native Australia and personal experience.
     Murray's poetry is, more than anything else, vigorous. It is full of energy and passion -- but Murray's command of the craft is such that there is little spluttering bluster. His poems go far beyond mere loud effect. He has a sense for language, and a surprisingly delicate touch with words -- making for a striking mix of fervour and finesse.
     There is a great deal of anger in much of his poetry, especially against injustice. There is a brutal honesty to much of it. Unhappy childhood experiences and lingering depression colour much of the work.
     Murray is a political poet too, and, to some extent, a religious one: firm (and loud) in his convictions, but managing largely to avoid sounding too righteous. He is, however, also equally comfortable revelling simply in nature, friendship, or art.
     The variety of his output is impressive: distinctive, his poetry nevertheless takes many forms and approaches. Among his most impressive works are his novels-in-verse, The Boys who Stole the Funeral and, especially, Fredy Neptune.

     A remarkable voice, offering powerful poetry that veers between the rollicking and the fine-tuned, Les Murray is one of the modern masters, and his work holds great appeal.

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Les Murray: Poems by Les Murray:
  • Poems at the Australian Poetry Library
  • Poems at Poetry
Les Murray's books at the complete review: See also:

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