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Pigeon English: a 'lost' Les Murray interview

  • 06 May 2019


In 2013 the Australian poet Les Murray, who died 29 April 2019 aged 80, was guest at the Carmelite Library in Middle Park, Vic. He gave talks, readings and workshops, and participated in an interview conducted by me and recorded by the journalist and filmmaker Peter Thomas. What follows is an edited transcript. The full interview can be heard here.


Philip Harvey: Where does poetry come from?

Les Murray: From the impulse of delight. You fall in love with it and start thinking I can do that, and you spend the next 50 years or so discovering whether you can or not. It's gone on accumulating for me, although there are things that I grow out of, that I think 'I've left that one behind, I wouldn't do it that way now.'

Do you ever find yourself in a place where you wonder where the next poem is going to come from?

Yeah I'm there now. I've always been there.

Where is poetry going?

Nowhere in particular. Just on to more poetry. It's been doing that for as long as we know. Occasionally a new audience comes up or a new way of disseminating it comes up but it's fundamentally the same experience down the centuries.

People familiar with poetry know this is counter-intuitive to the famous Auden line ['poetry makes nothing happen', W. H. Auden, 'In Memory of W. B. Yeats'] but what does poetry make happen?

Not much. It tests the soul of some people who make it. I don't know whether on a wide public policy level it makes much happen. But it causes a reflective moment in this, that and the other person.

You talk about the soul of the poet being tested but presumably when poetry makes something happen it's also happening for those other souls.

Yeah it is. It may change them, it may confuse them. It may usefully confuse them, they can see that something isn't quite as simple as they imagined.

So poetry is the possibility of connection?

I've heard of connection, but I'm a solitary from the bush, I'm a lonely child from the bush, so what do I know about connection?

What would you say to a young poet, a child or teenager, about the craft of making poetry?

Read poetry and soak yourself in it. I knew when I fell in love with poetry that to get serious about it and do it, I needed a big background in it. It hadn't been taught