||"As the Enlightenment canto we call Bohemia evolved into modernism,
the universities became its principal home and support. Early modernism was enormously
liberating, because it brought poets a new, superrefined readership and freedom from
stilted older styles which a wide readership had long enjoyed and rather imprisoned us in.
Modernism made the subject matter of poetry practically infinite, and gave approval to
registers and vocabularies previously stratified in a rigid class hierarchy that
considered Kipling low and Tennyson elevated. But alas! If
modernism gave us a sophisticated new readership, it also blew away all our older
readerships and made us dependent on itself.
|And it had agendas and class purposes of its own. For some,
writers and critics, it was principally an aesthetic, for others it was a political
programme. And, one bright day or another, each of us realised or were told that we were
owned, and that certain conscript service would be expected, certain themes handled in an
approved way or left alone. In default of which we would be undermined, dismissed from
serious consideration as artists, and sent where there was no longer any public for us.
Because for bad music and bad painting and bad movies there are free markets, but the
market for bad poetry is itself within the bounds of radical modernism. The real
breakthroughs of literary modernism are, I suspect, all far behind us, and only the fetish
of breakthrough itself, plus recyclings of old innovation, trivial variations, remain in
our time. The next genuine change in art will come when a new patronage arises."
--Les Murray, "Defense
of Poetry" (1998)
What does this quote reveal about Murray's attitude towards modern poetry and towards
modernity in general?
Poetic Responses to Modernity
Republics are for those who dream of rising
socially; monarchies are for the self-relegated.
The kangaroo has never heard of Australia.
Class is triage.
In practice, equality is shapely, youthful, neatly dressed people before they open their
--aphorisms by Murray in the Independent Monthly
The following poems reflect on the modern world in
varying ways. Some of these point to a world of fascist possibilities in the treatment of
the poor, the disabled, the sacred, even the fat. Some look at the ironies of the modern
world in our relationship to the land, to beauty, and to work. And some suggest that the
modern world is finally a place of emptiness.
"Politics and Art," "An
Era," & "The Beneficiaries"
What does each of these poems reveal about modernity
What does each suggest about politics and poetry?
"Dog Fox Field" & "It Allows
a Portrait in Line-Scan at Fifteen"
How does the second poem, which is about Murray's own
autistic son (Alexander), put the issues in the first one in perspective?
How does Murray contrast the inhumanity of political
systems and the humanity of those with challenging disabilities?
"The Rollover" & "On Home
How would you describe the tone of each poem?
What is the central irony (cruelty) in each?
How does each poem represent a particular kind of
misuse of power and a resulting helplessness in the modern world?
"Water-Gardening in an Old Farm Dam," & "Inside Ayers Rock"
What is the relationship between the towers' beauty
and the work that goes on inside?
What is the irony of the way the narrator regards
modern ways of caring for the land?
Likewise, what is the irony between one's
expectations of Ayers Rock and the commercialism surrounding
Why is the continent the "[m]ost modern" of
Why and how does Murray associate it with the
Under God, from this
I am part of the Australian people.
I share their democracy and their freedom
I obey their laws
And I expect Australia to be loyal to me.
--Murray's proposed pledge of allegiance for Australia