Thursday, 11 February 2010

Hero Worship

We went to see Les Murray read his poems last night. Once again (Simon Russell Beale was the first) a stout man wins my heart. He read from his published poems in the first half and then from his new collection, which is coming out in April, in the second half (I will be buying it). He had the air throughout of not wanting to burden us, as if he believed we hadn't really all left our houses especially to listen to him.
Someone asked at the end whether he started with an idea or a feeling when he began to write a poem. Like Auden, he seemed to think that ideas were the worst way to begin.
At one point he told the story of his grandfather asking his father to cut down a tree at the end of a day of felling. His father objected, saying the tree was no good, rotten and full of white ant, and he wouldn't. The grandfather got the younger son to do it. In the process, the younger one landed it on himself and died. The grandfather blamed Murray's father for the rest of his life, exacting small, petty revenges. It was easier than contemplating the possibility that it was he himself who was to blame, Murray suggested.
I'd never read Quintets for Robert Morley, which identifies with the fat: 'We were probably the earliest civilized, and civilizing, humans,' it says, 'Never trust a lean meritocracy
nor the leader who has been lean'
Its final proposition:
'had Newton not been a mere beginner at gravity
he might have asked how the apple got up there
in the first place. And so might have discerned
an ampler physics.'
drew much laughter. Murray grinned at the audience after that: 'We like being liked too,' he observed, presumably on behalf of the poem's subjects.
Although I suspect fame and celebrity would be the last things Murray wants, I wish he was more widely recognised as a great man. But as he says, describing his arrival in Hollywood, in the poem Opening in England, (which he didn't read last night):
... Poets are nothing
in that profit vortex. Entertainment
and all the decorations of satiety
were craft, but poetry was a gent
always, regaled with gifts, not money.

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