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the Complete Review
the complete review - poetry

Poems the Size of Photographs

Les Murray

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To purchase Poems the Size of Photographs

Title: Poems the Size of Photographs
Author: Les Murray
Genre: Poetry
Written: 2002
Length: 106 pages
Availability: Poems the Size of Photographs - US
Poems the Size of Photographs - UK
Poems the Size of Photographs - Canada
  • Poems the Size of Photographs is also available in the Australian edition from Duffy & Snellgrove

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Our Assessment:

A- : impressive, solid collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Age A 28/3/2002 David McCooey
The New Yorker . 5/5/2003 .
TLS . 24/1/2003 William Wootten

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is also a lightness about the collection, and Murray's jokiness is less tendentious than usual. (...) Poems the Size of Photographs is one of Murray's most consistently enjoyable books. (...) The novel use of a smaller scale should not blind us to the continuities here. These poems inhabit classic Murray country. We find the bucolic settings, the satire, the surrealism, the riddles, the eccentric syntax, the religious sensibility, the perspective that takes in everything from jellyfish to galaxies, and the interest in Celtic culture." - David McCooey, The Age

  • "His usual fixations (...) here give way to a more philosophical exploration of the illustrative power of words" - The New Yorker

  • "Indeed, this is Murray's most likable collection since Translations from the Natural World (1992), and once again it is Murray's reverence for that natural world as well as his ability to mythologize scientific discovery and observation that provide many of the book's strongest moments (.....) Poems the Size of Photographs is an impressive display of Murray's versatility." - William Wootten, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Poems the Size of Photographs offers more than the title suggests. A number of the poems are of the implied brevity -- indeed, many are distinctly snapshot-like -- but Murray also presents larger compositions. Overall, there is an album-quality to the collection (published in an odd-sized near-square ca. 6 x 6 inch volume) -- a nice mix and miscellany of varying pieces: some close-ups, some wide-angle shots, some candid, some crisp, some slightly blurred.
       There are many snapshots, each a few lines focussed on a single image or thought: Jellyfish ("Globe globe globe globe" the first line (of four) patiently repeats) or the simple picture of A Countryman, or a place like Apsley Falls. Clothing as Dwelling as Shouldered Boat perfectly conveys the famous Opera House, "Sydney's Aboriginal building." And the American capital is succinctly wrapped up in all of five lines in D.C.:

City where aircraft are hung
as art, and security admits people
to colonnaded floors
of horizontal beige skyscrapers
haunted by ideals and vast men.
       What images can communicate is also central to the collection, from poems that explore the question literally -- The New Hieroglyphics and More Pictographs -- to the more radical imaginings of poems such as Starry Night (a reading of the Van Gogh painting allowing both "spiralling sky / and helicopter lights approaching").
       The Meaning of Existence acknowledges: "Everything except language / knows the meaning of existence." And elsewhere too the limitations of language are admitted to -- as in Succour:
Refugees, derelicts -- but why classify
people in the wreck of their terms ?
       The Barcaldine Suite -- a longer piece -- also considers music: "the vast nonsense poem".
       Even a made-to-order poems, such as Robert Fergusson Night (written for the commemoration of St. Andrews University, 2000) offers some surprises with its clever whimsy. Other, more serious pieces also impress: The Engineer Formerly Known as Strangelove or the Australian century-survey, The Scores, or the condemning The Machine-Gunning of Charm.

       Murray is very sure of himself in these poems. They are the works of a mature (and talented) poet, who knows what he is capable of -- and is still willing to take some risks. A very good collection.

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Poems the Size of Photographs: Reviews: Les Murray: Other works by Les Murray under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Poetry at the complete review
  • See Index of Australian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Australian poet Les Murray was born in 1938. He has written numerous poetry collections, as well as two novels in verse.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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