I was very sad to read of the recent death of Australia’s most prolific poet and stunning wordsmith – Les Murray – on April 29th 2019. But, also, gladdened to see that he had lived a long life until the age of eighty. This, in spite of years of depression, struggle, ill-health and melancholia. I found this to be profoundly inspiring.
And I also recalled the kindness and encouragement that he showed to me, and the brief and friendly correspondence that we exchanged, and our subsequent meeting.
It was in 2000 that I sent some poems to the magazine Quadrant, where Les was the Literary Editor. I had written a poem called ‘ Chekhov Visits Bagara’ and, to my astonishment and delight, Les liked it and accepted it for publication. Even better, he took two more poems: ‘ Marine Parade’ , and ‘End of the Road’. He wrote me a note, which said: ‘Good on you, as we say … and best wishes – Les Murray’.
I also received a cheque for $120 Australian dollars!
It was around this time that another great literary editor – Alan Ross of London Magazine – was also taking a few of my poems ( five in all); and it was, at last, for me, a joy to experience a little recognition and response. I had by now a healthy collection of rejection slips from all manner of little poetry magazines. To experience two editors who returned work promptly and added useful comments was astonishing and a joy.
All in all, I was to receive five postcards from Les in the coming years – the first dated 29/9/99, when he wrote to say he’d taken my ‘Chekhov’ poem, and did I have any more ‘of that quality’. This first postcard was of South Head, Watson’s Bay in Sydney. Such an astonishing coincidence, because Watson’s Bay was where my late father had lived with his third wife for many years.
The second postcard was dated 9/5/01, when I told him that my little book of poems was due out soon, and that I had asked if I might quote him on the rear jacket cover. He then said he’d ‘be interested to see how you’ve been doing’. All his postcards bore the same address: Cecil’s Lane, Bunyah, NSW 2429.