Story by Emmjay

Not to be confused with the late “Mr Football”, poet Les Murray died on 29 April 2019 at a Taree, New South Wales, nursing home at the age of 80.

I didn’t think much about his passing. I had half-regarded him as some kind of redneck right wing religious nut job doing a pretty good impression of Uncle Fester.

But I seem to be coming to an age of examining my entrenched prejudices and I am wont to overlook the fact the he probably was one of those – but I have come to accept that he was also a great poet and his work eclipses a life lived at the short end of the stick. He was a fellow traveller often doing so in the company of the Black Dog.

I was shaken from my ignorance by “Books that Saved MY Life” by Michael McGirr (Text Publishing Company, paperback version 2019). This is a great book. A collection of essays about 40 books and excellent backgrounding about the writers. I highly recommend that you score a copy and devour it with the same kind of relish that compelled me to put down my iPad and steal some solitude.

McGirr is a former Jesuit and a long time teacher. My English master at good old East Hills Boy’s High School was the same. And he was a wonderful, kind, erudite and humorous man. Maybe he still is. I hope so. He instilled in a handful of we Westie ruffians an appreciation for literature uncommon in those days and probably even scarcer now.

I have been delighted by a fair proportion of books McGirr surveyed that had been written in the 1920s and 1950s – the latter containing my birthdate – 1953 and it prompts me to go and dig them out and try to get a better handle on the era.

But I degress.

I bought a copy of Les Murrays collected works (a slab and not really commuting material like McGirr’s book). Black Books have published in this tome about 700 pages of Murray’s poems – a bargain at $60 new but you can score 100 of his “best” works for half that much in a slim portable volume.

The book draws from many if not all of Murray’s smaller books. My favourite book is named “The Weatherboard Cathedral” – such a contrast between the accommodations of the poor and those flogging eternal life to the credulous.

The thing I most appreciate about the poems I’ve read so far is Murray’s wonderful attention to the small things in the moment.

The very first poem, from “The Ilex Tree” is called “The Burning Truck”.

I was transfixed by his story of a truck that caught fire, the driver jumping out of the cab – and the truck continuing on down the street with all the residents praying that it would pass by and not careen into their particular abode. And the usual posse of rascal boys running after it to witness the denouement first hand.

But since the Internet demands short sharp and punchy materials for those of us like myself deprived of a decent attention span, herewith …

SENRYU

Just two hours after

Eternal Life pills came out

someone took thirty

Senryū is a Japanese form of short poetry similar to haiku in construction: three lines with 17 morae. Morae are weighted syllables where a stressed syllable might count for two unstressed syllables – apparently 🙂

Senryū tend to be about human foibles while haiku tend to be about nature, and senryū are often cynical or darkly humorous while haiku are more serious. Wikipedia.