Les Murray vies with John Ashbery and Geoffrey Hill for the title of most prominent living poet passed over for a Nobel Prize. Readers who come to Murray hoping for an Antipodean Seamus Heaney will find a more ornery figure, endlessly bountiful but lacking the Irishman’s diplomatic gene. A vein of outspoken anger runs through his 1996 collection Subhuman Redneck Poems, but with Waiting for the Past we find Murray in something more like meditative mode.
The harsh landscapes of Murray’s New South Wales have long been a presence in his work, and ‘The Black Beaches’ returns us to this fons et origo. Murray finds the deep rhythms of geological time in the everyday (‘Coal formed all afternoon’), and writes with skill of hard manual labour