The great Australian poet who died last week at the age of 80 could be generous to young writers learning their craft
I still treasure it and I took it down from the shelf this week when I heard the news of his death: “With warm and aerial best wishes, Les Murray”, written in red biro now faded to pink on the title page of my copy of Translations from the Natural World. It had been inscribed more than 25 years ago in mid-air, somewhere over Eastern Europe, after I had spent hours working up the courage to ask Murray for a signature.
It felt to me as if I had conjured him up that night. After all, my head was full of his words, so in the tired, ill-lit confusion of a Heathrow to Sydney long-haul flight, when we had eaten something called Breakfast when it felt like bed-time, when the in-flight movies had conjured places that were neither home nor destination, it didn’t seem so odd for him to emerge from the back of the plane and then to shamble past me in the aisle. Could it be him? It looked like all the pictures I’d seen of him – tall, heavy, that great bald baseball-capped head – but was it? He was doing loops of the plane every few hours, down one aisle, end to end, then up the other. After the third loop I was sure it was the poet. But what to do with this unexpected grace, this gifted encounter? Should I try to talk to him?