Les Murray’s poetry books fill a long shelf, and his Collected Poems (Black Inc 2018) runs to more than 700 pages.
So it was a challenge for actor Peter Carroll and theatre polymath John Senczuk to choose a group of poems for a coherent performance piece, titled Burning Want. I was peripherally involved as literary adviser. Plans for 2020 were cut short when theatres went dark.
This week the project came to life at the SBW Foundation’s Seaborn library in Neutral Bay, with Peter Carroll’s moving performance of Burning Want, supported by James Boyd-Hoare, who composed piano music to set the mood.
The audience responded very warmly to Peter Carroll’s performance, which brought a wide range of poems to life – some tragic, some wry, a couple hilarious.
At each session, the audience included people with special connections to the Murray oeuvre. Graham MacDonald, former editor of honi soit, was the first to put a Murray poem in print, in April 1959 in the Sydney University student paper.
In my secret garden/ I kept three starlings,/ In my secret locket/ three copper farthings.
One zinc-grey evening/ The birds escaped me/ And a crippled man stole/ My shining money.
The starlings wandered/ Till three hawks took them,
And now my agents/ Have caught the cripple.
This poem doesn’t appear in the Collected Poems, so it was exciting to have it rediscovered.
The discovery of new poems continued. After the matinee performance, an audience member produced an occasional poem that Les Murray wrote in recent years to celebrate the 80th birthday of a neighbouring farmer. A jaunty celebratory rhyme, it was full of bouncing tennis balls and references to how much joy the recipient and his wife got from tennis.
The day left me marvelling at the brilliance of Les Murray’s words, and Peter Carroll’s immersion in the very essence of the poems. Composer and pianist James Boyd-Hoare was another exciting discovery, and John Senczuk’s talent and verve always delight me.
Afterwards I was given a bunch of bush greenery to take home. I posed next to a picture of the charismatic Peter Finch. What a day!