23. ilb 06. – 16.09.2023

Les Murray

Les Murray was born on a farm in Nabiac/New South Wales, Australia, in 1938. As an only child he soon acquired autodidactic habits. Following family tradition – a relative in Scotland edited and wrote parts of the enormous Oxford English Dictionary – the young Murray turned out to be highly gifted in all language matters, though he was too dreamy and headstrong for an academic career. After his studies he worked as translator at the Australian National University in Canberra. In 1965, together with Geoffrey Lehmann, he published his first volume of poetry, ‘The Ilex Tree’, which won the Grace Leven Prize for Poetry. In the early 1970’s Les Murray settled in Sydney as a freelance writer and literary critic. Between 1973 and 1980 he worked as an editor of ‘Poetry Australia’, and later became the literary editor of the magazine ‘Quadrant’. As an often-awarded poet, Les Murray can look back on an extensive poetic oeuvre distinguished by an enormous diversity of themes, an extremely wide spectrum of poetic forms, and great linguistic virtuosity. He combines, for example, traditional lyrical forms of the western cultural area with the oral culture of the Aborigines. Inspired by their long narrative poems, he penned one hundred and forty sonnets for his first verse novel, ‘The Boys Who Stole a Funeral’ (1979). For eight years, from 1988 to 1996, Murray suffered from severe depression. During this period, however, he produced some of his most important work: the unique animal and nature poems ‘Translations from the Natural World’ (1992), ‘Subhuman Redneck Poems’ (1993), a homage to simple people, and the epic novel in verse, ‘Fredy Neptune’ (1998), which he describes as his “cryptic autobiography”. Fredy Neptune is traumatised having been forced to witness an act of violence against Armenians. Since then insensitive to pain and therefore superhumanly strong, he has travelled around the world. About his relation to poetry, Murray says, “The poetic experience seems, at bottom, to be an experience of wholeness. If a poem is real, it is inexhaustible; it cannot be summarised or transposed into other words. It is marked by a strange simultaneity or stillness and racing excitement.” The novel was awarded the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair in 2005. Les Murray’s most recent collection of poetry, “The Biplane Houses”, was published in 2006. The writer lives in Bunyah/New South Wales.

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