Les, Peter, John, James – and Peter

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.

Burning Want flyer

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.

Property

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.

Les Murray

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!

In the Seaborn Library foyer with Peter Finch

PENELOPE NELSON

April 2021

Pandemic style invades Paris

I saw it with my own eyes. Heard it with my own ears.

There on the French news, was an item about sloppy at-home attire taking over the streets of Paris. The Covid effect, they called it.

Pandemic style.

It’s summer there of course. Even so, do you expect to see the kind of daggy shorts men wear to Bondi Junction being sported on the Champs Elysees?

There was worse to come. French women have been abandoning their bras. A French bra is a thing of substance, a “soutien-gorge”, or breast-upholder, but French women discarded them while working at home. Now they are in no hurry to struggle back into them.

As for feet. The camera panned downwards. Yes, it was true. Sneakers, trainers, sports shoes of every colour. In French these are called “baskets”, pronounced bass-‘ketts, but whatever you call them, they are not the chic leather slip-ons or lace-ups of the formally attired. They are rubber-soled canvas footwear, pumped out in their millions by Asian franchisees.

Les baskets, the latest thing in Paris

Formal wear for men has vanished, for the summer of 2020 at least. A boutique owner reported that the sales of suits were down more than 25%.

Women were wearing skimpy sundresses or cut-off trousers.

Paris Fashion Week had to go virtual this year, but its fashion leadership is over.

We are the leaders now. Australian summer style has finally taken over the world.

Les Murray wrote a great poem, “The Dream of Wearing Shorts Forever,” of which one stanza reads:

Scunge, which is real negligee

housework in a swimsuit, pyjamas worn all day,

is holiday, is freedom from ambition.

Scunge makes you invisible

to the world and to yourself.

Free at last! Liberty, Equality, Sisterhood.

Paris is taking fashion tips from Parramatta.

PENELOPE NELSON