SOME POETS map a whole territory through their work. They give voice to a landscape and its inhabitants. Their task is to tame and to define. The way their poems talk, the way they move down the page, give speech to those among whom they grew. Such a poet was the American William Carlos Williams. Another is the Australian poet Les Murray, who grew up on a dairy farm in Bunyah, a small township in New South Wales.
Murray is 65 this year, and he has been publishing books of verse for almost 40 years. His verse is profoundly democratic. There is no subject natural to it because all subjects seem natural to it. Its language too has a kind of baggy, inclusive breadth and depth. At it best, it has a child-like freshness and simplicity. At one moment a poem may be alluding to a corned-beef supper; at the next it is soaring up into heady metaphysical speculation.
To see Les Murray reading his work is to witness him embodying the kind of poetry that he writes. He is a huge, sprawling, large- headed, rough- featured man with an extraordinarily casual manner of address. When he reads, he tears through 10 poems in as many minutes. This is not some high-falutin drawing-room stuff called poetry that I'm reading, his manner seems to suggest; it's a brisk, brusque and matter-of-act account of my life and my most profound preoccupations. And, incidentally, it's in verse because verse is the only truly satisfactory way of giving praise for the life with which I've been blessed.
After all, the earth is a sacred place, shot through with wonder. …