Sunday, May 10, 2009

Les Murray reading from unpublished work in Sydney

Bolstering my newfound belief in the value of Twitter, a search on the site just turned up video of our man Les Murray reading in the University of Sydney's Fisher Library. The quality of the video and audio are both exemplary.

Les says he is reading "from a book that doesn't exist" and that should appear next year. Many of the new poems are briefer, like his recent series of Poems the Size of Postcards, though a few - including one that is a kind of compendium of trivia - are a bit longer.

The themes are in keeping with the work that has come before. "The Death of Isaac Nathan, 1864" goes into Les' thirst for Australian history, a passion that also underlies his long poem that we are currently scoring, The Sydney Highrise Variations. Another essays his chronic topic of animals, in this case a pet cat.

Les looks a bit tired or unwell and stumbles over a number of lines. His wit is sharp as ever, though. Wrapping up a poem about an historical figure with a very strange name, he quips, "I like 'Sexburger'. A name you can conjure with."

Before Les on the program is Judith Beveridge, billed as a "poet, editor and teacher of poetry writing (also at the University of Sydney)". I liked her stuff quite a bit.

She has a number of grisly poems about sea life and fisherfolk. "The subject matter of some of these poems is a bit brutal and nasty, I must admit," she says. Interestingly, she says she finds writing from experience "tedious" and prefers to invent characters and situations for her poems - quite unlike Les Murray.

In fact, his introduction to the most personal poem he read that night tied together the two poets on the bill. He told an anecdote about his mother losing her memory. After one visit with his mother, Les said, he told his wife, "Never outlive for yourself". He said she challenged him to translate that into Latin.

Les - who knows many languages - said he sought help in doing so and found it in Steven Edgar, "the husband of the previous poet": Judith Beveridge .

The video was produced by University of Sydney and posted by SlowTV, an online multimedia component of an Australian print magazine titled The Monthly.


Image of Les reading (published work, at a completely different event) from somebody's Flickr.

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