Nature is Fierce
The Biplane HousesLes Murray
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux · hardcover · $23)
For Murray, nature is a thing unto itself, as well as a map of the past, both personal and political. "I drove by guess in ancestral country," he writes in "Early Summer Hail with Rhymes in O," "threading the white dark of the afternoon."
A great many gravel roads in his Australia are convict-laid, the assist-maker of first encounters between conqueror and conquered. Not surprisingly, the bush appears frequently in his work, especially in this volume. Even the poems that aren't about landscape manage to invoke it.
"Around the hilly roads," Murray writes in "Barker Unchained," a poem dedicated to a teacher of English who visited rural areas, "I see you on very back roads / where tyres snore on gravel / and your propellant dust / catching up at every stop / enrolls you in a khaki furore."
In some poems here, the natural world Murray describes sounds fierce and dangerous—as if it were attacking the people, and not the other way around. "The oldest road off that plateau / steepens into blued dragon-knee / switchbacks, on the ocean pitch of fall," he writes in "An Acrophobe's Dragon," a poem that almost makes your stomach rise.
Much of Murray's work feels like this—weary of human folly, but not so jaded as to preclude wonder, and shot through with a frisson of violence. "The Biplane Houses," named after a structure common in his part of Australia, toes a delicate line between these poles.