New Selected Poems

New Selected Poems

by Les Murray

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A fresh selection of the finest poems—some previously uncollected—by one of our finest English-language poets

Why write poetry? For the weird unemployment.
For the painless headaches, that must be tapped to strike
down along your writing arm at the accumulated moment.
For the adjustments after, aligning facets in a verb
before the trance leaves you. For working always beyond

your own intelligence.
—from "The Instrument"

New Selected Poems contains Les Murray's own gathering from the full range of his poetry—from the 1960s through Taller When Prone (2004) and including previously uncollected work.
One of the finest poets writing today, Murray reinvents himself with each new collection. Whether writing about the indignities of childhood or the depths of depression, or evoking the rhythms of the natural world; whether writing in a sharply rendered Australian vernacular or a perfectly pitched King's English, his versatility and vitality are a constant. New Selected Poems is the poet's choice of his essential works: an indispensable collection for readers who already love his poetry, and an ideal introduction for those who are new to it.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780374713737
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date: 08/12/2014
Sold by: Macmillan
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 336
File size: 631 KB

About the Author

Les Murray (1938-2019) was a widely acclaimed poet, recognized by the National Trust of Australia as one of the nation’s treasures in 2012. He received the T. S. Eliot Prize for the Best Book of Poetry in English in 1996 for Subhuman Redneck Poems, and was also awarded the Gold Medal for Poetry presented by Queen Elizabeth II.

Murray also served as poetry editor for the conservative Australian journal Quadrant from 1990-2018. His other books include Dog Fox Field, Translations from the Natural World, Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse, Learning Human: Selected Poems, Conscious and Verbal, Poems the Size of Photographs, and Waiting for the Past.

Les Murray (1938-2019) was a widely acclaimed poet, recognized by the National Trust of Australia as one of the nation’s treasures in 2012. He received the T. S. Eliot Prize for the Best Book of Poetry in English in 1996 for Subhuman Redneck Poems, and was also awarded the Gold Medal for Poetry presented by Queen Elizabeth II.

Murray also served as poetry editor for the conservative Australian journal Quadrant from 1990-2018. His other books include Dog Fox Field, Translations from the Natural World, Fredy Neptune: A Novel in Verse, Learning Human: Selected Poems, Conscious and Verbal, Poems the Size of Photographs, and Waiting for the Past.

Read an Excerpt

New Selected Poems

By Les Murray

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Copyright © 2014 Les Murray
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-374-71373-7


    The Burning Truck

    i.m. Mrs Margaret Welton

    It began at dawn with fighter planes:
    they came in off the sea and didn't rise,
    they leaped the sandbar one and one and one
    coming so fast the crockery they shook down
    off my kitchen shelves was spinning in the air
    when they were gone.

    They came in off the sea and drew a wave
    of lagging cannon-shells across our roofs.
    Windows spat glass, a truck took sudden fire,
    out leaped the driver, but the truck ran on,
    growing enormous, shambling by our street-doors,
    coming and coming ...

    By every right in town, by every average
    we knew of in the world, it had to stop,
    fetch up against a building, fall to rubble
    from pure force of burning, for its whole
    body and substance were consumed with heat
    but it would not stop.

    And all of us who knew our place and prayers
    clutched our verandah-rails and window-sills,
    begging that truck between our teeth to halt,
    keep going, vanish, strike ... but set us free.
    And then we saw the wild boys of the street
    go running after it.

    And as they followed, cheering, on it crept,
    windshield melting now, canopy-frame a cage
    torn by gorillas of flame, and it kept on
    over the tramlines, past the church, on past
    the last lit windows, and then out of the world
    with its disciples.

    Driving Through Sawmill Towns


    In the high cool country,
    having come from the clouds,
    down a tilting road
    into a distant valley,
    you drive without haste. Your windscreen parts the forest,
    swaying and glancing, and jammed midday brilliance
    crouches in clearings ...
    then you come across them,
    the sawmill towns, bare hamlets built of boards
    with perhaps a store,
    perhaps a bridge beyond
    and a little sidelong creek alive with pebbles.


    The mills are roofed with iron, have no walls:
    you look straight in as you pass, see lithe men working,
    the swerve of a winch,
    dim dazzling blades advancing
    through a trolley-borne trunk
    till it sags apart
    in a manifold sprawl of weatherboards and battens.

    The men watch you pass:
    when you stop your car and ask them for directions,
    tall youths look away –
    it is the older men who
    come out in blue singlets and talk softly to you.
    Beside each mill, smoke trickles out of mounds
    of ash and sawdust.


    You glide on through town,
    your mudguards damp with cloud.
    The houses there wear verandahs out of shyness,
    all day in calendared kitchens, women listen
    for cars on the road,
    lost children in the bush,
    a cry from the mill, a footstep –
    nothing happens.
    The half-heard radio sings
    its song of sidewalks.

    Sometimes a woman, sweeping her front step,
    or a plain young wife at a tankstand fetching water
    in a metal bucket will turn round and gaze
    at the mountains in wonderment,
    looking for a city.


    Evenings are very quiet. All around
    the forest is there.
    As night comes down, the houses watch each other:
    a light going out in a window here has meaning.

    You speed away through the upland,
    glare through towns
    and are gone in the forest, glowing on far hills.

    On summer nights
    ground-crickets sing and pause.
    In the dark of winter, tin roofs sough with rain,
    downpipes chafe in the wind, agog with water.
    Men sit after tea
    by the stove while their wives talk, rolling a dead match
    between their fingers,
    thinking of the future.

    An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow

    The word goes round Repins,
    the murmur goes round Lorenzinis,
    at Tattersalls, men look up from sheets of numbers,
    the Stock Exchange scribblers forget the chalk in their hands
    and men with bread in their pockets leave the Greek Club:
    There's a fellow crying in Martin Place. They can't stop him.

    The traffic in George Street is banked up for half a mile
    and drained of motion. The crowds are edgy with talk
    and more crowds come hurrying. Many run in the back streets
    which minutes ago were busy main streets, pointing:
    There's a fellow weeping down there. No one can stop him.

    The man we surround, the man no one approaches
    simply weeps, and does not cover it, weeps
    not like a child, not like the wind, like a man
    and does not declaim it, nor beat his breast, nor even
    sob very loudly – yet the dignity of his weeping

    holds us back from his space, the hollow he makes about him
    in the midday light, in his pentagram of sorrow,
    and uniforms back in the crowd who tried to seize him
    stare out at him, and feel, with amazement, their minds
    longing for tears as children for a rainbow.

    Some will say, in the years to come, a halo
    or force stood around him. There is no such thing.
    Some will say they were shocked and would have stopped him
    but they will not have been there. The fiercest manhood,
    the toughest reserve, the slickest wit amongst us

    trembles with silence, and burns with unexpected
    judgements of peace. Some in the concourse scream
    who thought themselves happy. Only the smallest children
    and such as look out of Paradise come near him
    and sit at his feet, with dogs and dusty pigeons.

    Ridiculous, says a man near me, and stops
    his mouth with his hands, as if it uttered vomit –
    and I see a woman, shining, stretch her hand
    and shake as she receives the gift of weeping;
    as many as follow her also receive it

    and many weep for sheer acceptance, and more
    refuse to weep for fear of all acceptance,
    but the weeping man, like the earth, requires nothing,
    the man who weeps ignores us, and cries out
    of his writhen face and ordinary body

    not words, but grief, not messages, but sorrow,
    hard as the earth, sheer, present as the sea –
    and when he stops, he simply walks between us
    mopping his face with the dignity of one
    man who has wept, and now has finished weeping.

    Evading believers, he hurries off down Pitt Street.

    Working Men

    Seeing the telegram go limp
    and their foreman's face go grey and stark,
    the fettlers, in their singlets, led him
    out, and were gentle in the dark.

    Vindaloo in Merthyr Tydfil

    The first night of my second voyage to Wales,
    tired as rag from ascending the left cheek of Earth,
    I nevertheless went to Merthyr in good company
    and warm in neckclothing and speech in the Butcher's Arms
    till Time struck us pintless, and Eddie Rees steamed in brick         lanes
    and under the dark of the White Tip we repaired shouting

    to I think the Bengal. I called for curry, the hottest,
    vain of my nation, proud of my hard mouth from childhood,
    the kindly brown waiter wringing the hands of dissuasion
    O vindaloo, sir! You sure you want vindaloo, sir?
    But I cried Yes please, being too far in to go back,
    the bright bells of Rhymney moreover sang in my brains.

    Fair play, it was frightful. I spooned the chicken of Hell
    in a sauce of rich yellow brimstone. The valley boys with me
    tasting it, croaked to white Jesus. And only pride drove me,
    forkful by forkful, observed by hot mangosteen eyes,
    by all the carnivorous castes and gurus from Cardiff
    my brilliant tears washing the unbelief of the Welsh.

    Oh it was a ride on Watneys plunging red barrel
    through all the burning ghats of most carnal ambition
    and never again will I want such illumination
    for three days on end concerning my own mortal coil

    but I signed my plate in the end with a licked knife and fork
    and green-and-gold spotted, I sang for my pains like the free
    before I passed out among all the stars of Cilfynydd.

    Incorrigible Grace

    Saint Vincent de Paul, old friend,
    my sometime tailor,
    I daresay by now you are feeding
    the rich in Heaven.

    The Pure Food Act

    Night, as I go into the place of cattle.

    Night over the dairy
    the strainers sleeping in their fractions,
    and the mixing plunger, that dwarf ski-stock, hung.

    On the creekstone cement
    water driven hard through the Pure Food Act
    dries slowest round tree-segment stools,
    each buffed
    to a still bum-shine,
    sides calcified with froth.

    Country disc-jocks
    have the idea. Their listeners aren't all human.
    Cows like, or let their milk for, a firm beat
    nothing too plangent (diesel bass is good).

    Sinatra, though, could calm a yardful of horns
    and the Water Music
    has never yet corrupted honest milkers
    in their pure food act.

    The quiet dismissal switching it off, though,
    and carrying the last bucket, saline-sickly
    still undrinkable raw milk to pour in high
    for its herringbone and cooling pipe-grid
    to the muscle-building cans.

    His wedding, or a war,
    might excuse a man from milking
    but milk-steeped hands are good for a violin
    and a cow in rain time is
    a stout wall of tears.
    But I'm britching back.

    I let myself out through the bail gate.
    Night, as I say.
    Night, as I go out to the place of cattle.


    M.J.K. 1882–1974 In Piam Memoriam

    You ride on the world-horse once
    no matter how brave your seat
    or polished your boots, it may gallop you
    into undreamed-of fields

    but this field's outlandish: Australia!
    To end in this burnt-smelling, blue-hearted
    metropolis of sore feet and trains
    (though the laughing bird's a good fellow).

    Outlandish not to have died
    in king-and-kaiserly service,
    dismounted, beneath the smashed guns
    or later, with barons and credit

    after cognac, a clean pistol death.
    Alas, a small target, this heart.
    Both holes were in front, though, entry
    and exit. I learned to relish that.

    Strange not to have died with the Kingdom
    when Horthy's fleet sank, and the betting
    grew feverish, on black and on red,
    to have outlived even my Friday club

    and our joke: senilis senili
I bring home coffee now.
    Dear God, not one café in this place,
    no Andrássy-street, no Margaret's Island ...

    no law worth the name: they are British
    and hangmen and precedent-quibblers
    make rough jurisprudence at best.
    Fairness, of course; that was their word.

    I don't think Nature speaks English.
    I used to believe I knew enough
    with gentleman, whisky, handicap
    and perhaps tweed. French lacked all those.

    I learned the fine detail at seventy
    out here. Ghosts in many casinos
    must have smiled as I hawked playing cards
    to shady clubs up long stairways

    and was naturalized by a Lord Mayor
    and many bookmakers, becoming a
    New Australian. My son claims he always
    was one. We had baptized him Gino

    in Hungary. His children are natives
    remote as next century. My eyes
    are losing all faces, all letters,
    the colours go, red, white, now green

    into Hungary, Hungary of the poplar trees
    and the wide summers where I am young
    in uniform, riding with Nelly,
    the horseshoes' noise cupping our speeches.

    I, Mórelli József Károly,
    once attorney, twice gunshot, thrice rich,
    my cigarettes, monogrammed, from Kyriazi,
    once married (dear girl!) to a Jew

    (gaining little from that but good memories
    though my son's uniforms fitted her son
    until it was next year in Cape Town)
    am no longer easy to soften.

    I will eat stuffed peppers and birds' milk,
    avoid nuns, who are monstrous bad luck,
    write letters from memory, smoke Winstons
    and flex my right elbow at death

    and, more gently, at living.

    Kiss of the Whip

    In Cardiff, off Saint Mary's Street,
    there in the porn shops you could get
    a magazine called Kiss of the Whip.
    I used to pretend I'd had poems in it.

    Kiss of the Whip. I never saw it.
    I might have encountered familiar skills
    having been raised in a stockwhip culture.
    Grandfather could dock a black snake's head,

    Stanley would crack the snake for preference
    leap from his horse grab whirl and jolt!
    the popped head hummed from his one-shot slingshot.
    The whips themselves were black, fine-braided,

    arm-coiling beasts that could suddenly flourish
    and cut a cannibal strip from a bull
    (millisecond returns) or idly behead an
    ant on the track. My father did that.

    A knot in the lash would kill a rabbit.
    There were decencies: good dogs and children
    were flogged with the same lash doubled back.
    A horsehair plait on the tip for a cracker

    sharpened the note. For ten or twelve thousand
    years this was the sonic barrier's
    one human fracture. Whip-cracking is that:
    thonged lightning making the leanest thunder.

    When black snakes go to Hell they are
    affixed by their fangs to carved whip-handles
    and fed on nothing but noonday heat,
    sweat and flowing rumps and language.

    They writhe up dust-storms for revenge
    and send them roaring where creature comfort's
    got with a touch of the lash. And that
    is a temple yard that will bear more cleansing

    before, through droughts and barracks, those
    lax, quiet-speaking, sudden fellows
    emerge where skill unbraids from death
    and mastering, in Saint Mary's Street.


Excerpted from New Selected Poems by Les Murray. Copyright © 2014 Les Murray. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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