[ Briefly Noted ]


Poems the Size of Photographs, by Les Murray (Farrar, Straus & Giroux; $23). A fad-averse contrarian, Murray has made his career writing poems about the poor, rural backwaters in New South Wales, where he was born and where he still lives. His usual fixationswith aboriginal culture, with farms, with his painful childhood (he was mercilessly teased for being fat; his mother died unexpectedly)here give way to a more philosophical exploration of the illustrative power of words, producing poetry concerned with "international sign-code,""pictographs," and "speech balloons." These poems are brief enough to suggest that a word is worth a thousand photographs, and yield some of Murray's most lasting pastoral images: "Sheep are like legal wigs / the colour of fissured cement." At Iguassu Falls, "a bolt of live tan water / is continuously tugged / off miles of table / by thunderous white claws." Murray's punchy polemical side is in evidence, too. "I feel no need to interpret it / as if it were art," he writes of an empty but beautiful landscape. "Too much / of poetry is criticism now.""In a Time of Cuisine" is a mere four lines long: "A fact the gourmet / euphemism can't silence: / vegetarians eat sex, / carnivores eat violence."

Blue Hour, by Carolyn Forch (HarperCollins; $24.95). The title poem of Forch's fourth collection takes the birth of her son as a starting point for contemplation of her own childhood, just after the Second World War, an era when "it was not as certain that a child would live to be grown." The uncertainty of an individual's survival at any given point in history informs the first part of this volume, which mounts a quiet protest against the atrocities of the last century and insists that "even the most broken life can be restored to its moments." In such lines, Forch's personaunflinching witness and eloquent mournerprevails, but in the centerpiece of the collection, "On Earth," her obsessive documentation of inhumanity overwhelms her best lyric instincts. …

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