Les Murray: A Memory

My blog today will be brief, because I’m recovering from a lengthy house move (including shifting many tonnes of printed matter). And because I’ve moved house, I’ve been starved of the internet now for a week or so, so I missed the sad annoucement of Australian poet Les Murray‘s death at age 80. I’ve no interest here in passing judgment on his skills as a poet or even mentioning his oeuvre, but I do want to share with you one little memory of the only time I bumped into him.

It must have been summer 2006 or 2007, not sure which, and I was an undergraduate English student at Stirling University. The English department had some extremely strong links to towering literary names like Chinua Achebe, Seamus Heaney, Adrienne Rich and Les Murray through friendships with faculty members like Professors Angela Smith, Rory Watson and Alasdair Macrae. I was friendly with all three of these professors, although by the time I was at the university, Macrae had retired. So it was either Rory Watson or Angela Smith who encouraged me to go along and see Les Murray (on one of his many UK tours) read in one of the lesser lecture rooms of the Pathfoot building.

It’s strange that I was given at least two opportunities while at Stirling to hear Famous Seamus Heaney read there, and I let both of them pass me by (much to my regret). But I felt almost possessed to go and hear Les Murray. This is additionally strange because I had no idea what he looked like (remember, this was just before the internet really became the most ubiquitous force on earth) and I’d maybe only read a dozen or so of his poems. On the day of Murray’s reading I was late getting there and I dashed to the venue. Before going in I realised that I had to go to the loo first, so I ran into the nearest toilet. Throwing the door open I almost instantly collided with what seemed like a bouncy castle clad in a stripey jumper. As I went ricochetting backwards, I felt too embarrassed to look the large gentleman I’d just bumped into in the eye and muttered my flurry of apologies while staggering to the nearest urinal.

After relieving and composing myself, I was ready to go in and take my seat. My fears that there wouldn’t be any left were unfounded – in fact the room didn’t seem full at all (in stark contrast with any reading Heaney ever gave). Luckily as I went in, someone was just beginning to introduce their illustrious guest and speaker, Les Murray. I sat there wondering which person in the room he might be, but then at the very moment he was due to appear, a door opened and out came the very person (who seemed like ‘sprawl’ incarnate) I’d just barged into five minutes beforehand.

I wish I could say that I remembered every poem he read and his entertaining delivery of each one, but I was glowing red with embarrassment the whole time I sat there, the only time I heard Les Murray read in corpore.



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