A Web Chat from Cheltenham

The transcript of a web chat with Les Murray follows, held on October 19th, 2001 as part of the Cheltenham Literary festival. With thanks to Channel 4 for providing the transcript. (To participate in similar web chats in future, visit http://www.channel4.com/talk).



Chat ed.
Welcome Les Murray!

Les Murray
Hello. We can go with the first question – I'm open for business.

Chat ed.
Here we go...

chris
What was it like being presented with the Queen's Gold Medal by the Queen herself?

Les Murray
I don't hobnob with royalty very much and in fact I had been making a small programme about republicanism to explain to the British public about Australian republicanism. The Queen I found charming, a very intelligent woman with a rather wicked sense of humour. I gave her a book of mine called Fredy Neptune and told her it was about a German speaking family. But the convention is you don't reveal what conversation you had with royalty, but I thought it would be a sin against anthropology not to meet that rarest of human occupations – a reigning monarch.

matilda
What influenced you to start writing poetry? When was that?

Les Murray
Believe it or not it was the English teacher at my High school. He introduced us to some modern poetry which was not in the curriculum in those days. As soon as poetry became relevant to the world I actually lived in I became fascinated and said to myself I can do this. And I've been trying ever since.

bookworm
How does it feel to be included on the list of poets to be studied in the National Curriculum for English?

Les Murray
Blanched and said Dear God! I'd hate to be responsible for turning students off poetry, but I don't think it's the poetry that does it. It's the fact that it has to be studied and examined. I don't think poetry alienates people I think exams do.

Ik
Do you think there is anything specific about 'Australianess' which makes the writings from there more distictive?

Les Murray
Yes but I couldn't sum it up for you in a sentence. You'd need to immerse yourself in Australian poetry to find it. Remember Australian nature is profoundly different and Australian society is subtly different too.

glittery
Do you feel that Peter Carey winning the Booker prize will raise the profile of other Australian writers, including yourself?

Les Murray
No I think the moment in which it was necessary to raise our profile in the world came in the 70s and 80s. We needn't worry about that now.

Ik
What are your thoughts on the whole Cheltenham festival?

Weenie
Are you going to see/have you seen any events at the Cheltenham Festival?

Cinders
Cheltenham RULES

Les Murray
Ik: I like it. I think it is varied and it is not all highbrow, which is very important. I find it amazingly varied with something for everyone. Weenie: I might even create some!

Notata Dignum
Do you feel that poetry should be accessible to al, and do you believe you accomplish that?

Les Murray
Yes to both questions. It need not, however, be too immediately accessible. It just needs to assure you that it is worth persisting with. Perhaps a poem you read at the age of 19 will become relevant to you when you are 38 or 50. A poem should be inexhaustible.

matilda
As a seasoned writer of peotry both long and short, which gives you greater pleasure?

Les Murray
Lately I've been fascinated by the short poem. It was something I wanted to explore because I had tended to be long winded at times. Possibly because I have a large chest and can hold a lot of air. The short poem gives one the scope for an immense amount of experiment.

jamie
do you think a writer should make a point of writing a certain amount every day?

Les Murray
Yes. Even if only letters. A poem can often start from a letter.

tree
Do you feel that Peter Carey's style of writing (no punctuation, capitals etc) in True History of the Kelly Gang is a good thing or do you think it encourages sloppiness?

Les Murray
I gave up reviewing a long time ago because I felt I shouldn't make life more difficult for my colleagues in a tough profession, so I won't talk about Peter Carey's work. In general whatever works is good but you have to make it work.

Weenie
Once you have finished a poem – say it has been published – do you ever return to it and make further amendments.

Les Murray
Yes I do Oh God yes and there are poems of mine which I wish I could expunge from the universe. Often I publish a poem two or three times before I get it finally right.

Derek and Clive
Is it true you once said 'To have control over language is to be free' and if so, what do you think of using the internet as a form of expression?

Les Murray
I think it opens fascinating potentials for us. The potential, for example, of reading aloud and being heard and yet having the text on the screen for the people to follow as they are listening. The book was never enough and neither was the reading. People like to hear the poet but they need the book because they can look back and see what was going by them too fast.

clara
Do you feel that the performance of your poetry to live audiences is an important part of your work or a distraction?

Les Murray
It makes you more money than book royalties do by far and I enjoy a trip.

glittery
You refer to painting quite a lot – do you dabble as an artist too?

Les Murray
Never – I have no talent for it but I wish I had. I started out wanting to be a painter though.

shiny
Do you have any 'rituals' you go through when writing your poems?

Les Murray
No I get into a particular frame of mind though which is as much like dreaming as thinking and a kind of internal dance begins too.

kelvo
As far as writing goes, what are your favourite displacement activities?

BobbyThompson
Hi Les :) What is total relaxation to you? Being Aussie I thought it may involve wine and a book :P

Les Murray
Kelvo: Driving, Sleeping and vaguely going and socialising with people. Bobby Thompson: I'm not a big drinker though I like red wine well enough. But I am a voracious reader.

Chat ed.
OK, our time is running short, so we will do the last few questions next...

tree
What impact did winning the TS Eliot prize have on your career?

Les Murray
It's the only time in my life when the television news actually came to our farm in helicopters to interview me! They then reported me according to what they understood rather than what I actually said. Our autistic son said at the end of the day 'We had a lot of visitors today Dad and none of them spoke to me except one of the helicopter pilots'. In general it was probably the end of my career because Australians don't like prominence. I had now got too big for my boots!

chris
Who are your main influences on your work? You concentrate on the rural – would you say Robert Frost was a significant influence?

Les Murray
No my influences were mostly anthologies although I have a great regard for Robert Frost though I learned more from Hesiod.

Chat ed.
And finally...

bookworm
Favourite poem and line from a poem – not one of yours!

Les Murray
It varies from day to day. New Zealand poet Douglas Stewart ended a poem about a New Guinea explorer with the line; And ate the bird of paradise.

Les Murray
Thank you for all those very thoughtful questions.

Chat ed.
Thank you very much for coming along Les Murray! And thanks to all the chatters for a good selection of questions!

Les Murray
Goodbye

BobbyThompson
thanks Mr Murray !!!!

tree
Thank you very much

clo
byeeeeeeee

jonny boy
have a good time in Cheltenham

Chat ed.
And so end our chats from Cheltenham. I hope you have all enjoyed them.

 




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