It is hard to think of any major Australian poet, living or dead, whose work has been as overtly political as that of Les Murray. Even in early collections like The Weatherboard Cathedral, there are signs of Murray's profound mistrust of power and tl1ose who wield it. This political dimension is what Steven Matthews chooses to emphasise in his recent study of Murray's work. For Matthews, the importance of Murray's writing lies in its attempt 'to define the nature of an emergent and separate national consciousness'(2). Murray is said to perform 'a traditional, bardic role'(l56), especially in his development of a distinctive poetics based on the supposedly 'vernacular' qualities of Australian culture (24, 28-29). According to the foreword (written by a series editor who is, alas, unnamed), Matthews's book seeks to draw on 'the theoretical impulse which currently dominates post-colonial studies'. The results yielded by such an approach are not entirely unpredictable. Murray's linguistic inventiveness, for example, is praised as a fonn of 'hybridity' (70) or as cultural 'creolization'(l44). Matthews also notices various convergences between Murray's writing and the work of post-colonial theorists like Paul Carter and Homi Bhabha - something that might come as a surprise to the poet himself, given his general disapproval of such theories.
Review of Les Murray, by Steven Matthews, and attuned to Alien Moonlight: The Poetry of Bruce Dawe, by Dennis Haskell.
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