The greatest of Australian poets, Les Murray, died on April 29 at the age of 80. A unique being from a dirt-poor family, freakishly gifted and terribly scarred by family tragedy, Murray was a cantankerous and rampantly un-politically-correct figure in the leftist world of Australian literature. On show were all his human weaknesses and his cussedness as well as his tenderness and his matchless gift for line and sound, for the vernacular as well as the cerebral. Here are the opening lines of a poem about his autistic son Alexander:
It Allows a Portrait in Line Scan at Fifteen
He retains a slight “Martian” accent, from the years of single phrases.
He no longer hugs to disarm. It is gradually allowing him affection.
It does not allow proportion. Distress is absolute, shrieking, and runs him at frantic speed through crashing doors.
He likes cyborgs. Their taciturn power, with his intonation.
It still runs him around the house, alone in the dark, cooing and laughing.
He can read about soils, populations and New Zealand. On neutral topics he’s illiterate…