Wednesday, July 23, 2014

`A Vine that Survives in the Ruins of Skill'

ZMKC is reading Les Murray again, as I often do – he writes for grownups – and I was impressed by the line she singles out for attention in “Driving to the Adelaide Festival 1976 via the Murray Valley Highway”: “Romance is a vine that survives in the ruins of skill.” Murray likes to use familiar words in unfamiliar settings without descending into cheesy surrealism. His language is sometimes private but never hermetic. It sounds right and overlaps generously with ours, though laced with Australian words we already know (“billabongs”) and those we don’t (“footy”: the OED calls it a diminutive of “football” in Australia and New Zealand). This isn’t like writing in dialect, which can be condescending and incoherent. Above all, Murray prizes energy -- linguistic, emotional and intellectual – and he dedicates all of his books “to the glory of God.” 

Fifty year ago I had a pen pal, a girl in New South Wales, Murray’s home turf. I’m ashamed to say I don’t remember her name. I thought of her again last week when my middle son and I watched the film Tomorrow, When the War Began, a Red Dawn remake set in New South Wales. The movie doesn’t improve on John Milius’ original (which was a good boy’s adventure story, out of Kipling and Stevenson) but features achingly beautiful Australian landscapes. Growing up in Cleveland, the romance of Australia mingled with the romance of the American West, another place I had never visited. To this adolescent it signified vast open spaces, self-reliance, freedom and a code of honor: “Romance is a vine that survives in the ruins of skill.” 

Go here to read the other poem mentioned by ZMKC, “The Buladelah-Taree Holiday Song Cycle.” Read him aloud: 

“Now the ibis are flying in, hovering down on the wetlands,
on those swampy paddocks around Darawank, curving down in ragged dozens,
on the riverside flats along the Wang Wauk, on the Boolambayte pasture flats,
and away towards the sea, on the sand moors, at the place of the Jabiru Crane;
leaning out of their wings, they step down; they take out their implement at once,
out of its straw wrapping, and start work; they dab grasshopper and ground-cricket
with non-existence... spiking the ground and puncturing it... they swallow down the outcry of a frog;
they discover titbits kept for them under cowmanure lids, small slow things.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I'm always surprised when non-Australians refer to our slang as unfamiliar (footy for example), when such words have become so incredibly entrenched here they aren't recognised as slang at all, just standard language.

I love Les Murray's poetry, he was the first poet I read outside of a forced high school scenario where the joy of reading such artists can be killed off far too effectively. "A Retrospect of Humidity" is a particular favourite.