Friday, 7 December 2012

Les Murray Visits the Carmelite Library


very fine time with les murray friday morning in the carmelite library, as fortune would have it les was in melbourne to speak to haplax in the evening, so his chauffeuse donna ward transported les over to middle park at 9.30 for a late breakfast of irish breakfast tea and passionfruit cakes from the south melbourne market, les plans to talk at the carmelite centre next year thus this opportunity to get a feel for the place, the calm room that is the carmelite library of spirituality, yes his catholicism is well-known to his readers, part of his escape or rejection of his presbyterian upbringing, still an unexplored part of his work actually, but his catholicism also an exploration of the history that is everywhere about us and of the god that forgives while he asks us to learn forgiveness, one of the hardest challenges for any of us in this life, les said he writes poems now that try to handle forgiving things in his past, I remarked unheard that that is the jesus thing, one of the hardest things you can do, les talked this morning about his scots ancestors and how even today the murrays don’t give christmas presents, a handkerchief or something, which is given to someone else at the next birthday, he was being serious I think, coming from an anglican vicarage world myself where christmas pudding can be an explanation of life itself this murray parsimony is mighty weird and maybe catholicism was a cure and a way forward for him, he is incredibly sensory, he seemed quite comfortable in the serene surrounds of the library, great conversation and he really does listen to what everyone is saying, I actually relate to his way of relating, he doesn’t bother with prefaces, it’s straight on with whatever comes next to his mind, les talked about archbishop mannix, said he wanted to write something sometime on mannix, seeing as how he was in melbourne  at the moment, and how mannix had saved hundreds of lives maybe by acting against conscription in the great war, I told les that the carmelite hall itself where we sat over morning tea was dedicated by mannix and the stone block with goldleaf was in the front of the building proving he’d dedicated the building in 1918, but les had already noticed the bluestone block with the goldleaf, and I remarked how the hall predated the church (our lady of mount carmel) because when mannix came to middle park he said to the carmelites they had to decide what kind of style of building they wanted, make up your minds, our lady being several styles in one roman-byzantine & romanesque & victorian gothic & maybe australian italianate and it was thus in the twenties they constructed a new church which is what we see today on the corner of richardson and wright streets, victoria was discussed, I said that in the last census, les knew it was late last year and told us promptly, they made an analysis of giving to public charities and on a ratio the most charitable place was the very same middle park, so it was good to be sitting in the most charitable place in australia, but I asked what was the second most charitable place in victoria, and les guessed very very close he said bairnsdale maybe, and I said hmmm close in fact lakes entrance, and he agreed lakes entrance was a friendly place to be, said his favourite victorian town was mildura, it’s also great to hear him talking so openly about autism, my understanding of autism is that ultimately only one person can say a person is autistic and that is the person themselves, they have to self-diagnose, as I understand it, others can find ways of making them see that there are social problems but only they can get to the point of identifying it, that’s why les rehearsed a series of characteristics of his that he recognises as typical of the spectrum, this is very healthy behaviour from les, I believe, it is self-curative which is why it’s worth listening to him say it, he needs to say it and we need to hear it, it makes lots of things more understandable about les and his difficulties and his poetry, and anyway what does it all mean? autism, he talked about his son alexander who displays what is called iliasm which apparently is the verbal trait of talking in collective pronouns about one’s own personal actions, les said with joy that alexander was an iliast, a word he had just invented, I observed how close it was to iliad, les got onto all sorts of stuff, he wanted to know all about carmelites of course and how many were there and there was a new translation of john of the cross in recent years that he found okay, he also liked the penguin version of a few years back and I said that in reading john recently I particularly liked roy campbell’s versions, we agreed that campbell is about the best, that he gets closer to the spanish lyricism than other translators, the visit was to introduce him to middle park in anticipation of his two sessions with us at the carmelite centre early next year, an evening session for ‘poetry for the soul’ and a next morning session where people are invited to come along and read poems and les and the rest of us talk about the poems, it’s going to be terrific and I already worry about too many people cramming into the  o’connor-pilkington rooms at middle park, we talked about previous sessions of poetry for the soul including the last one on james k baxter and the american poet still with us mary oliver, les was interested in oliver so I reached down the collected poems from the shelf, he read some quietly over his cup of tea, coming to the early one-word judgement ‘soft’ but that he needed to read more, even ‘soft’ is open to interpretation, childhood is an amazing time, when I listen to things les says that I find a bit tricky (he talked about a poem on the cattle history of australia, for example, which I find needs more questions being asked) I see that he is reworking some very fundamental truths of his own upbringing that he not only will not betray but in fact wishes to laud to the skies, he certainly lives an incredibly close-up world of the mind, everything is ticking over so any word can be picked up and turned into new or amazing information, inside an hour we covered the catastrophe of the thirty years war, bach’s church in leipzig where les himself once attended communion, how cameras have become omnipresent and even on the farm people come up the drive and take pictures of him, the glory of libraries for those craving knowledge himself included, any turn in the conversation touched off thoughts informed by remarkable knowledge, that seemed as though the main thought in his mind at the time, readymade but of course the result of years of hard-won thought experience, but soon I had to return to the library work and les and donna had an appointment uptown at the university, as one would expect, we breathed the cool air of friday morning coming off port phillip bay, then donna and les were in the car and off to the next destination

composed freely the following evening by philip harvey

No comments:

Post a comment