Bleek soos die Australiese hinterland

Les Murray

Les Murray

Nou maar goed. Laat ek dan nou maar vanoggend my broeknaat aan die doringdraad agterlaat, maar op dié draad kan ek nie langer bly sit nie. En dit handel oor Australië se ikoniese digter genaamd Les Murray. Ek kan gewoon nie die status en populariteit van dié man begryp nie. Vir etlike jare al figureer sy naam op die nominasielys vir die Nobelprys en ook vele van my vriende beskou hom as ‘n reus onder digters. Hoekom?! Vir my was hy nog altyd ‘the poor man’s Theodore Roetkhe’.

Nietemin, onlangs het Nicholas Wroe ‘n omvattende – en toegegee, insiggewende – artikel oor Murray vir The Guardian geskryf. Ter agtergrond: Murray is in 1938 gebore op ‘n afgeleë suiwelplaas in die noordelike gebiede van New South Wales. Verdermeer staan elke publikasie van Murray telkens onder die mashoof van “Dedicated to the glory of God.” Sug. In die woorde van Nicholas Wroe: “And there you pretty much have it. Murray is the poet of Australian rural life and work, and the natural world in which they are conducted. He invests the rituals, grandeur, wonder and hardships of both spheres with a powerful sense of the sacred.”

In die galery van die Les Murray-juigkommando staan daar natuurlik heelwat prominente figure, soos byvoorbeeld die ánder Australiese digter, Peter Porter, wat na Murray verwys het as “the custodian of Australia’s soul”. Joseph Brodsky het dié siening selfs verder gevoer en gesê: “It would be as myopic to regard Mr Murray as an Australian poet as to call Yeats an Irishman. He is, quite simply, the one by whom the language lives.” ‘n Meer amusante kommentaar was egter dié van ‘n kritikus wat na ‘n onlangse optrede van Murray by Magdalene College, te Cambridge (?) na dié digter verwys het as synde “the fattest major English-language poet since the 20-stone Ben Jonson”. (In die berig word beweer dat Magdalene College in Cambridge is, maar persoonlik het ek altyd gedog dis in Oxford. Vandaar die vraagteken.)

Maar terug na Murray se biografiese gegewe: “Murray’s father was employed by Murray’s grandfather – ‘for no pay, just the promise that he’d get a farm’ – as a woodcutter. A month before Les was born his father refused to cut down some trees which he said were full of white ants and were therefore worthless. Les’s grandfather asked another of his sons to do the work. He was inexperienced, made a mistake and was killed. ‘And an unforgiving kind of blame stayed between dad and his father for the rest of their lives. Dad was given a farm, but my grandfather made sure he kept hold of the purse strings so he kept my parents poor. After I was born my mother had no more live children and had several miscarriages. The two things together were pretty crushing for my parents and they were depressed a lot of the time because of it.’ For all that, Murray says ‘aside from my parents’ miseries, a lot of my upbringing was quite good fun. The animals and birds and countryside were all fine. I was a happy enough child until the age of 12 when everything fell in.’ His mother died after haemorrhaging from another miscarriage. ‘Dad hung on to the farm as a place to survive. I became like Huck Finn. Didn’t wear shoes for a long time. But while my father wasn’t an alcoholic, he was a grief-aholic. He’d always worked 16 hour days. In the first part of his life it was for pure pride. In the second part it was to anaesthetise himself. Finally my grandfather died and it turned out the will had not given the farm to my father after all, so he just walked away and went back to cutting trees again. We didn’t give up the farm, it gave us up.'”

Ontroerende geskiedenis, inderdaad. Maar ek wil vanoggend se Nuuswekker afsluit met ‘n uitspraak deur Murray self. Na ‘n ernstige leweraandoening waartydens hy drie weke in ‘n koma was, het hy die 10,000-reëlige versroman Fredy Neptune geskryf. Oor dié werk het hy hom soos volg uitgelaat: “Despite some previous scepticism as to the notion of poetry as therapy, I now concedes there is something to it. You do seem to explain to yourself what life has done, because you don’t always understand what is going on. Fredy Neptune appeared and said ‘write me’. I only discovered the ending when I got to the last page. It wasn’t like making it up, it was as if I was discovering it out of a deep place in my head. When I got to the ending he just walked away and never bothered me again, so I thought it must have been right. And that’s when poetry seems to work best, when it takes in your dreaming mind, your intellect and the physical body. The best work in any field of art seems to work on that basis because it is a model of how humans truly think.”

Terloops, ingeval jy dink dat ek bevooroordeeld is: op die rakke van Protea Boekwinkel op Stellenbosch sal jy wel kopieë van Les Murray se New Collected Poems (Carcanet, 2002) en ook Fredy Neptune (Carcanet, 1998) aantref.

Maar gaan lees gerus Nicholas Wroe se artikel. Fassinerende leesstof. Vir jou verdere leesplesier volg die eerste reëls van Les Murray se gedig “Burning want” hieronder.

***

Sedert gister het daar net een plasing bygekom en dit is Andries Bezuidenhout se bespreking van ‘n treffende reël uit ‘n Denis Hirson-gedig.

Geniet die dag wat op hande is.

Mooi bly.

LE

 

From just on puberty I lived in funeral:

mother dead of miscarriage, father trying to be dead,

we’d boil sweat-brown cloth; cows repossessed the garden.

Lovemaking brought death, was the unuttered principle.

 

I met a tall adopted girl some kids thought aloof,

but she was intelligent. Herpoise of white-blon hair

proved her no kin to the squat tanned couple who loved her.

Only now do I realise she was my first love.

 

But all my names were fat-names, at my new town school.

 Between classes, kids did erocide: destruction of sexual morale.

 

© Les Murray (Uit: Burning want, New Collected poems, 2002: Carcanet Press)

 

 

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