Australian poet Les Murray dies at 80

Updated

April 29, 2019 18:20:45

Australian literary giant and poet Les Murray has died at the age of 80.

Key points:

  • Les Murray had published nearly 30 volumes of poetry over a 40-year career
  • His work is studied in schools and universities and has been translated into other languages
  • His agent said the 80-year-old’s health had been deteriorating

Murray’s agent of 30 years, Margaret Connolly, confirmed his death, saying he died at a nursing home at Taree on the New South Wales north coast.

Ms Connolly said the loss to Australian writing could not be estimated.

“The body of work that he’s left is just one of the great glories of Australian writing,” she said.

“The thought that there will be no more poems and no more essays and no more thoughts from Les — it’s very sad and a great loss.”

Ms Connolly said Murray had “been unwell” and had died peacefully.

“Essentially it was old age, he hadn’t been very well, his health had been deteriorating,” she said.

Murray’s publisher Black Inc. released a statement describing him as “frequently hilarious and always his own man”.

“We mourn his boundless creativity, as well as his original vision.

“His poetry created a vernacular republic for Australia, a place where our language is preserved and renewed.”

Born in Nabiac on the New South Wales north coast, Murray went on to publish nearly 30 volumes of poetry over a career spanning four decades.

His work is studied in schools and universities around Australia and has been translated into several foreign languages.

Dubbed “The Bard of Bunyah” — a reference to his affinity for the town he grew up in — the acclaimed author earned a slew of accolades over the course of his life, including the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Much of his work explored the history and landscape of Australia and his connection to the north coast region, including his 2015 volume, On Bunyah.

Ms Connolly said he had a “profound understanding of Australia and Australian people”.

“He wrote from Bunyah, but made Bunyah the centre of the world”.

In 2015, Murray told the ABC’s Mark Colvin how his ideas for poems tended to form.

“It can be in the morning, any old time, I wake up with an idea and it starts following you around, ah that’s good. You know when it’s going to work, it’s going to be fruitful.

“Other times you’ll get the edge of an idea and maybe it fades away or there’s just no way it can be made to serve.

“Then you just, it takes its time and you work on it and if necessary you work on it more than once.

“I’m known to work on it two or three times before you get it right.”

Uneasy with accolades

The writer Joseph Brodsky famously once said Murray was “quite simply the one by whom the language lives”.

But Murray told Colvin he did not believe any of the accolades he had been given, and had always felt like a “subhuman redneck” — an idea he explored in a series of poems of the same name.

Murray was awarded an Order of Australia and listed as one of Australia’s 100 National Living Treasures by the National Trust of Australia.

The literary great, whose work includes The Ilex Tree and Waiting for the Past, was also the recipient of the Grace Leven Prize (1980 and 1990), the Petrarch Prize (1995), and the prestigious T.S. Eliot Prize (1996).

In 1999, Murray was awarded the Queens Gold Medal for Poetry on the recommendation of Ted Hughes.

Murray spent his childhood and adolescence on his grandfather’s dairy farm in the Bunyah district before moving back with his own family in 1985.

“I had been 29 years away,” he wrote in The Idyll Wheel.

Black Inc said his work — from An Absolutely Ordinary Rainbow to Waiting for the Past — was “an unequalled body of Australian writing”.

“On a personal note, we will cherish our dealings with him.

“Les was frequently hilarious and always his own man — he would talk with anyone, was endlessly curious and a figure of immense integrity and intelligence.

“We celebrate his work and mourn his passing.”

Topics:

arts-and-entertainment,

poetry,

nabiac-2312

First posted

April 29, 2019 17:21:46

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