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Subhuman Redneck Poems

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Winner of the 1996 T. S. Eliot Prize for the Best Book of Poetry in English

Joseph Brodsky once said of Les Murray: "He is, quite simply, the one by whom the language lives." In these darkly funny and deeply observant Subhuman Redneck Poems, farmers, fathers, poverty-stricken pioneers, and people blackened by the grist of sugar mills are exposed to the blazing midday sun of Murray's linguistic powers. Richly inventive, tenderly detailed, and fiercely honest, these poems both ...

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Winner of the 1996 T. S. Eliot Prize for the Best Book of Poetry in English

Joseph Brodsky once said of Les Murray: "He is, quite simply, the one by whom the language lives." In these darkly funny and deeply observant Subhuman Redneck Poems, farmers, fathers, poverty-stricken pioneers, and people blackened by the grist of sugar mills are exposed to the blazing midday sun of Murray's linguistic powers. Richly inventive, tenderly detailed, and fiercely honest, these poems both surprise and expose the human in all of us.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"[Murray is a] prolific and award-winning Australian poet [who] writes with the gusto of an ox-herder. This volume, with its catchy title, is marked by the enthusiasms of a nationalist, post-colonial leader who sometimes deploys the humor and robustness characteristic of much of Murray's work."—Publishers Weekly

"Comedy high and low, fireworks, and anger combine in a tough, almost burly, music to make these poems of Les Murray quite memorable. He has developed a lyric style of admirable density."—Anthony Hecht

"[Murray] has written better, funnier, truer, and kinder poems about the poor, the oddball, the marginalized, and the overlooked than most of the progressives who moralize in free verse and look askance at his increasingly skeptical view of Leftist politics."—William Scammell, The Independent on Sunday (London)

"Praising Les Murray is as hard as praising Seamus Heaney: the language has all been used up . . . [This is] a capacious, generous book, written in Murray's powerfully distinctive style: he has developed a line which is as tough as it needs to be, but flexible enough to wind round whatever he catches in the big net of his imagination."—Andrew Motion

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This prolific and award-winning Australian poet (22 volumes in his own country, six published in England and the U.S., including Dog Fox Field, 1992) writes with the gusto of an oxherder. This volume with its catchy title is marked by the enthusiasms of a nationalist, post-colonial leader who sometimes deploys the humor and robustness characteristic of much of Murray's work: "We are the Australians. Our History is short./ This makes pastry chefs snotty and racehorses snort." But more often, his gifts are drowned out by jingoistic bluster and what's left is a song of despairing righteousness, rhythmically dull: "We were the proletarian evolution,/ a lot of us. We've been the future/ of many snobbish nations,/ but now the elite Revolution/ that rules unsullied by elections/ has no use for us." The less public poems, such as "The Last Hellos," "The Year of the Kiln Portraits" and "The Sand Coast Sonnets" approach the sharp-etched wonder that Murray is often capable of expressing: "Glorious on a brass day the boiling up/ from the south, of a storm above those paddocks/ of shoal-creamed, wake-dolphined water" ("Wallis Lake Estuary"). But this collection sounds overwhelmingly as if it were written for a political committee. Though the moral poise is admirable, its art is not very moving. (May)
Library Journal
Born in 1938, Murray (Dog Fox Field, LJ 2/1/93) is one of the younger members of Australia's literary establishment and one of the few Australian poets widely published abroad. The view he presents of his homeland is bleak: "Where will we hold Australia/ we who have no other country?/ Not Indigenous, merely born here." His outlook on life comes straight out of the 19th century, filled with tragedy, dislocation, and the land itself destroying people's dreams. Despite these misgivings, he justifies and explains Australia so often he seems to be writing for readers he presumes won't understand. No wonder poetry earns him merely "the deep shame of achievement." His language is colloquial but foreign to American ears, as in "the estuary bridge is double-humped/ like a bullock yoke." This volume, published first in Australia and England, has been awarded the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize. Even so, American readers will need to search further to understand the vibrancy to be found in modern Australian poetry.Rochelle Ratner, formerly Poetry Editor, "Soho Weekly News," New York
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780374525385
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
  • Publication date: 3/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1ST NOONDA
  • Pages: 112
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.27 (d)

Meet the Author

The widely acclaimed Australian poet Les Murray lives and writes on a farm on the north coast of New South Wales, where he was born in 1938. His books include Dog Fox Field, Translations from the Natural World, Subhuman Redneck Poems, Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse, Learning Human: Selected Poems, Conscious and Verbal, and Poems the Size of Photographs. In 1998, Murray was awarded the Gold Medal for Poetry presented by Queen Elizabeth II.

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Table of Contents

The Family Farmers' Victory 3
A Brief History 5
Where Humans Can't Leave and Mustn't Complain 7
Green Rose Tan 8
The Say-but-the-Word Centurion Attempts a Summary 10
Dead Trees in the Dam 12
Rock Music 13
The Rollover 14
Late Summer Fires 16
Corniche 17
Suspended Vessels 19
The Water Column 21
The Beneficiaries 22
The Maenads 23
The Portrait Head 24
In Phrygia, Birthplace of Embroidery 26
Like Wheeling Stacked Water 27
Wallis Lake Estuary 29
Twin Towns History 30
The Sand Dingoes 31
On Home Beaches 32
Leash Chain 33
From Bennett's Head 34
The Bohemian Occupation 35
The Fossil Imprint 36
On the Present Slaughter of Feral Animals 37
Memories of the Height-to-Weight Ratio 39
Water-Gardening in an Old Farm Dam 41
The Suspension of Knock 43
It Allows a Portrait in Line-Scan at Fifteen 45
Performance 48
War Song 49
Australian Love Poem 50
Inside Ayers Rock 52
Each Morning Once More Seamless 53
Contested Landscape of Forsayth 55
The Shield-Scales of Heraldry 57
The Year of the Kiln Portraits 59
Under the Banana Mountains 60
A Stage in Gentrification 62
Earth Tremor at Night 63
Waking Up on Tour 64
Tympan Alley 65
A Lego of Driving to Sydney 67
Burning Want 69
For the Sydney Jewish Museum 71
The Last Hellos 72
Opening in England 76
My Ancestress and the Secret Ballot 77
Comete 79
Dry Water 80
Life Cycle of Ideas 82
Cotton Flannelette 83
The Trances 85
The Devil 88
The Nearly Departed 90
The Warm Rain 91
For Helen Darville 93
Demo 94
Deaf Language 96
Reverse Light 97
The Genetic Galaxy 98
Blowfly Grass 100
Below Bronte House 101
The Head-Spider 102
Dreambabwe 104
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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 2 )
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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 22, 2004

    He's good with words, but not so interesting

    Obviously Australian and very proud of it, Les Murray has constant and consistent memories of his homeland that roam throughout his mind. He starts off with the basics that any child would remember first and foremost, his intermediate family. In ¿The Family Farmer¿s Victory¿, he starts off describing the differences between the white and black man when associating with the inner-most members of his family. Throughout the poems he tells of everyday life in Australia, going through it moment by moment, starting with ¿A Brief History¿, going to current events in his life, such as ¿Green Rose Tan¿, to simply what¿s happening momentarily as in ¿Dead Trees in the Dam¿ where he is only describing what¿s going on at the dam he is looking at. He reminisces through his childhood memories in ¿Late Summer Fires¿, when it seems like all he can think about is the visual he gets from those late evenings watching the wild fires roam throughout the heart of his pride lands. In his ¿Corniche¿, Murray is writing a response to Phillip Larkin¿s ¿Aubade¿ , going deep into the matters of life and death, and the life long question still remaining today, whether anything means anything or not. He apparently has an admiration for Larkin, in that he went so far as to copy the distinct style of the poem, and follows it almost line by line in his response. However, Larkin seems to be puzzled by the questions life has presented him with, while Murray comes back in response as if he already has all the answers that Larkin was looking for. Again to contrast Larkin¿s poem, Murray does not seem to be afraid of death, but almost welcomes it, opposing the thoughts put forth by Larkin of fearing death and anything it may possibly bring. Aside from talking and reminiscing about the everyday aspects of Australian life, Murray also considers the more serious aspects of life there, including the government as compared to the life of the everyday person in ¿Suspended Vessels¿. In his ¿The Beneficiaries¿, Murray presents a most haunting thought at first, that we should actually praise Auschwitz because ¿its what finally won them their centuries-long war against God¿ (5-7). I love the way he starts this poem with his ¿higamus hogamus¿, as if he were a child¿s cartoon character and at the same time as if he¿s laughing at how stupid the intellectuals seem to be with mockery. Capturing a horrible crime in his mind in ¿the Maenads¿, he tells in five short lines of a murder in which the victim was able to steal a credit card of one of the assassins for the authorities to trace. Murray goes on, telling the story of development in ¿Twin Towns History¿, and continues to go through life in his most favorite of places, day by day, and at times minute by minute. He capture decades in two to three lines, and makes mere minutes last three to four stanzas. Overall, his use of words fascinates me. He makes an ordinary minute seem like the most extravagant thing possible. He makes his Australian life relate to a life that could happen anywhere.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 26, 2004

    Interesting and provocative

    ¿Subhuman Redneck Poems¿ was a chance for Les Murray to prove what an extraordinary poet he is. This book is full of poems that bring the smallest things to life, and Murray covers everything from his life experiences in Australia to questioning life and death in what seems to be a response to Phillip Larkin¿s poem ¿Aubade¿. This is the first book I have read by Murray, but it won¿t be the last. He has a way of writing poems that talk about normal situations, such as bullies picking on over weight classmates, and turning it into a work of art. Murray also has a way of catching your attention with not just the titles of his poems but the first line in his poems, for example, ¿Rock Music¿. The first line of this poem is, ¿Sex is a Nazi.¿ If that doesn¿t catch your attention and induce you into reading the rest of the poem I don¿t know what will. This poem also takes something as ordinary as change and turns it into a great poem. Murray use of words to describe things is also spectacular, and sometimes a little surprising. ¿The Maenads¿ also has a great first line that captures your attention, ¿Four captured a man.¿ Another thing I really liked about ¿Subhuman Redneck Poems¿ was how Murray talked about things like poverty in ¿Green Rose Tan¿ and how even though it is a main concern of both the government and many religions, they actually need poverty and wouldn¿t have as much to talk about and deal with if it wasn¿t there. Also in ¿Green Rose Tan¿ Murray discusses the way our world is becoming less culturally defined and split, we are starting to become more like a massive single culture. One of the greatest things about Murray¿s poems is their way of taking something you can hear about on the news and morphing it into an interesting poem on life. You can also tell that Murray had a rough and troublesome childhood that he never really overcame and he uses poetry to express his feelings about that. Les Murray is also a translator and in ¿War Song¿ he proves that he is a good one. This poem is much like a poem you would have expected Murray himself to write. It focuses on war and the troubles it brings to a country, but the troubles are presented to the speaker of the poem in a dream, which I think resembles the unique ways that Murray presents things in his poems. Over all this book of poetry is a very good one, but it isn¿t for the beginning poetry reader. This book is more for an audience that understands poetry and likes to analyze it. Many of Murray¿s poems seem strait forward but there is an underlying meaning in almost all of them, which makes this book even better to sit, read, and think about.

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