Anybody who read this blog last year might recall my struggles with poetry and the collections of poems on the 2010 list. But, it wasn’t always this way. In middle school, I actually won a poetry contest. Now, before you start thinking I was a young Neruda who left the stanza behind for the fame of glory of high school debate, let me fill in the blanks.
For some reason during seventh grade, one of the middle school teachers decided it would be a neat idea to have a poetry reciting competition. In my small catholic school, there were just six home rooms. Each class would hold their own preliminary round and the winner from each class would compete in a school-wide assembly.
Even at this point in my young academic career, I was more Economist than haiku. So, I went home, where the only poems I had in my library was a collection by the inimitable Shel Silverstein. My choice tapped into the as-of-yet unknown mopey vein of my personality – Nobody Loves Me, Nobody Cares. You can find the text of the poem at the bottom of this page.
To be fair, I don’t remember what the other kids in my class selected. All I know is that my self-effacing recital sent me to the finals where I ended up finishing in the middle of the pack.
This memory came rushing back to me as I read Les Murray’s most recent collection of poems, “Taller When Prone.” Not because the Australian Murray is a kindred spirit of Silverstein. After another poem where I was uncertain how I should read it, compounded by Australian slang that I was wholly unfamiliar with, I was left wondering how I’d ever come close to winning a poetry competition.
It is in the poems where Murray embraces his native country’s dialect and vernacular where I felt most lost. Almost as if I was a tourist plopped down in a rhyme scheme with no sense of syntax. I’m sure, based on the other poems Murray included in Taller When Prone, that these poems filled with Australian slang and Aussie references would come alive on the page to a reader far more familiar with the source.
Murray’s greatest strength in this collection is how in just a few lines, sometimes no more than five or eight, he can survey an entire scene and bring the individuals to life. He encapsulates decades across time with the same ease as he paints a single moment. The two stand-outs in this sense are The Toppled Head and The Double Diamond. In the former, Murray describes a couple in bed, where one of them is snoring loudly and the other person tilts the snorer’s head allowing them to once again breath unimpeded. In the latter, Murray tells us the life story of man who has transformed from a soldier into a husband and then from a father into his last role as an elderly individual.
In the copy of the book I picked up from the library, they previewed a poem on the inside flap. Entitled “Fame,” it is easily the funniest poem of the bunch. Murray writes about being mistaken at a restaurant for a famous chef whom his misguided fan has thanked. The other stand out poem is “Phone Canvass” where the titular individual is blind and tells the person at the other end of the line,”I can hear you smiling.” It is a devastatingly beautiful line.
Picking up a collection of poems by an author as talented and skilled as Les Murray makes me wish I knew how to read poetry to the point that I could appreciate the talent on the page. And to have a better grasp of Australian lingo to boot.
Nobody Loves Me, Nobody Cares
“Nobody loves me, nobody cares,
Nobody picks me peaches and pears.
Nobody offers me candy and Cokes,
Nobody listens and laughs at me jokes.
Nobody helps when I get into a fight,
Nobody does all my homework at night.
Nobody misses me,
Nobody thinks I’m a wonderful guy.
So, if you ask me who’s my best friend, in a whiz,
I’ll stand up and tell you NOBODY is!
But yesterday night I got quite a scare
I woke up and Nobody just WASN’T there!
I called out and reached for Nobody’s hand,
In the darkness where Nobody usually stands,
Then I poked through the house, in each cranny and nook,
But I found SOMEBODY each place that I looked.
I seached till I’m tired, and now with the dawn,
There’s no doubt about it-