CDN$ 21.20
  • List Price: CDN$ 26.50
  • You Save: CDN$ 5.30 (20%)
FREE Shipping on orders over CDN$ 25.
Usually ships within 3 to 4 weeks.
Ships from and sold by Amazon.ca.
Gift-wrap available.
Quantity:1
Have one to sell?
Flip to back Flip to front
Listen Playing... Paused   You're listening to a sample of the Audible audio edition.
Learn more
See this image

Poems the Size of Photographs Hardcover – Apr 1 2003


See all 3 formats and editions Hide other formats and editions
Amazon Price New from Used from
Hardcover
"Please retry"
CDN$ 21.20
CDN$ 8.70 CDN$ 8.69

Best Books of 2014
Unruly Places is our #1 pick for 2014. See all

Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought



Hero Quick Promo
Boxing Day Kindle Deals
Load your library with over 30 popular fiction books and more, today only. Learn more

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (April 1 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374235201
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374235208
  • Product Dimensions: 18.5 x 1.6 x 18.1 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 249 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #2,528,511 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

From Booklist

In his eleventh book, renowned Australian poet Murray concentrates his muscular style, passion for landscape, and satirical humor into short and pithy poems. Tightly framed, most can be taken in at a glance, and yet, like developing photographs, they fully disclose their finer details and nuances more slowly. Murray begins with a mischievous tribute to the "new hieroglyphics," the international symbols of airports and restaurants, pictographs of the forbidden and the required. The contrasts between words and images intrigue Murray and inform his sly, sometimes startling, always colorful and animated lyrics, yarns, and epigrams. Murray relishes the Australian vernacular and displays a fondness for shade and shadows, a delight in lightning, a love for trees, and a mix of admiration for and fear of sheer rocky cliffs and the boiling sea. Irony surfaces in brief glimpses into colonialism, politics, and war, while complex memories of life before electricity, let alone electronics, are conveyed in remarkably expressive poetic shorthand. In sum, Murray's antipodal voice is droll, foxy, and delectable. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved

Review

In his 1983 collection, The People’s Otherworld, Les Murray swerved from his central preoccupations with nature and his own rural youth to write a series of poems about the modern metropolis. One of those poems stands out today as especially, eerily, prescient:

The iron ball was loose in the old five-storey city
clearing bombsites for them. They rose like
nouveaux accents
and stilled, for a time, the city’s conversation.

In that poem Murray concludes with equal clairvoyance that our “glittering and genteel towns” are “more complex in their levels than their heights/ and vibrant with modernity’s strange anger.”
Twenty years later, Poems the Size of Photographs returns to examine modernity, in general, and those two “bombsites,” in particular. In two poems looking back on 9/11, Murray’s old mistrust of all things nouveaux is adjusted to make room for his indictment of the alternative: the terrorist attacks arise “from minds that couldn’t invent/ the land-galaxies of dot painting// or new breakthrough zeroes, or jazz.” As always, Murray’s moral position is at once invigorating and consoling, but I read a difference between the 1983 poem and this one that goes beyond his sudden love of technology’s “breakthrough zeroes.”
The difference runs through this entire collection, and is heralded by its title. These poems are indeed the size of photographs, but having come to love Murray’s rambling style, his poems the size of motion pictures, his essays in verse form, I read these slimmer versions as shadows of their predecessors rather than rich new encapsulations. “Full religion is the large poem in loving repetition,” Murray wrote in 1987 in a poem called “Poetry and Religion”, and most of his forty-year career has been spent realizing the statement. Roughly speaking, the poems that have made his reputation as Australia’s leading poet are poems that eye the poetry-as-religion theme from every angle, with wonderfully cluttered, staircasing stanzas that stack details, analogies, anecdotes on top of one another to provide a whole portrait of his subject. Murray’s poems work the imagination into a fresh limberness; there is a sense after finishing a bout with his pages that one can think more fully, more inventively, about everything.
Complementing this structural walk-about is soft, supple language. Metaphor possesses Murray: in The Daylight Moon, his 1987 collection, an old-fashioned milk-truck “was the high-tyred barn of crisp mornings,/ reeking Diesel and mammary,/ hazy in its roped interior/ as a carpet under beaters.” In one sentence, Murray has fired off four separate metaphors for the milk truck-farm, engine, mother, museum-in a way that miraculously builds rather than confuses the image. Murray tends to sermonize on behalf of the common man (and his opinions are always remarkably sane), but you don’t quaff a poem like “The Milk Lorry” to sympathize with those who deliver the stuff; you read it for the variety of ideas tucked into its phrases-“the glancing hold was a magazine of casque armour,/ a tinplate ’tween-decks, a seminar engrossed// in one swaying tradition.” His poems offer pretty pictures and new ways of seeing them.
That combination is less abundant in Poems the Size of Photographs. The poems here feel slighter in a way not fully explained by their brevity. Not only does Murray give himself less room to elaborate thoughts and spin visual ideas around them; he also fills the book with dry proverbs and shards of wordplay that don’t cohere. In a very nice poem called “Reclaim the Sites”, Murray offers alternative names for city streets, but the cleverness becomes too cute:

Radar Strip, Bread-Fragrance Corner,
Fumbletrouser, Delight Bridge, Timeless Square?

“Bread-Fragrance Corner” is lovely, and “Timeless Square” is alright. But “Delight Bridge”? It’s filler inside a poem whose toy-like simplicity does not reward further play. Is it a sign of the times that short, one-dimensional poems make this collection feel spiffier and more “modern” than Murray’s earlier works? Brevity and simplicity may suggest forward motion in our poetry culture, but the conceits behind most of Murray’s new verses are strangely callow.
Many of these poems are less than five lines long, and only a handful resonate with the clear note of haiku. More often, the quickies tend to lecture the reader-as in “The Test”, which was disappointingly chosen to conclude the book. Here is the poem in its entirety:

How good is their best?
And how good is their rest?
The first is a question to be asked of an artist.
Both are the questions to be asked of a culture.

It’s ironic that Murray ends the book on so pithiless, pedantic a note when earlier in the volume he complained that “Too much/ of poetry is criticism now.” Already, critics have kissed such hectoring lines with their quotation marks, probably because the aphoristic mode seems to tap the poet’s beliefs so directly. “The Test” makes a wise enough maxim; that it fails as poetry can easily be overlooked.
Poems the Size of Photographs seems deliberately angled to line up with new ideas, modern developments, recent troubles-and this is another of its departures from Murray’s more traditional oeuvre, which has concerned itself mainly with landscape, with rural Australia, Murray’s youth on a dairy farm, language, art, and religion. As in the past, this volume presents lovely glimpses of nature (“a bolt of live tan water/ is continuously tugged/ off miles of table/ by thunderous white claws”), but you get the sense that nature is no longer alone. The handful of poems that offer a single image of natural scenes free of urban allusions happen to deal with waterfalls, or with rain, with water falling-and in a poet as Christian as Murray, the meaning of such images is transparent. “Brief, that place in the year,” he writes,

when a blossoming pear tree
with its sweet laundered scent
reinhabits wooden roads
that arch and diverge up
into its electronic snow city.

That word “electronic” drives a small modern shock through the stanza, and there is a melancholy significance in the poem’s placement in the book, too, caught between the two verses about 9/11: brief is that place in the year, indeed.
But with perfect thematic symmetry, Murray offers redemption: some of the loveliest poems in the book deal with the flight of birds. “Humans are flown, or fall;/ humans can’t fly,” begins a sonnet about animals that “throw the ground away with wire feet.” In a poem called “The Body in Physics”, injured birds when released “pause a beat/ and drop upwards, into gravity that once more/ blows as well as sucks. Fliers’ gravity.” In these poems nature redeems our human clay, and Murray partly redeems the flatness of the rest of the book. He leaves room for words to develop an image into clarity, and his aperture opens with exquisite compassion for his subject-as in “Succour”, a poem about refugees in a shelter:

It’s like a school, and the lesson
has moved now from papers to round
volumes of steaming food
which they seem to treat like knowledge,

re-learning it slowly, copying it
into themselves with hesitant spoons.

Listen to those soothing repetitions: school, moved, volumes, food, seem-culminating with “spoons” at the end of the poem. “Succour” again reinforces the sense that man has sullied the natural order (Adam and Eve, of course, were the first refugees). And if nature is snafu’d, then Poems the Size of Photographs attempts to provide a new language for this state of affairs. The vocabulary Murray invents (or identifies) is one of images, not words-a pessimistic gesture, coming from a poet-but he pulls it off as a lark, with a dash of wit. The book opens on this theme, in fact, with a poem called “The New Hieroglyphics”, which provides a list of image-symbols deciphered for inhabitants of the postmodern post-polyglot world. “All peoples are at times cat in water with this language,” Murray concludes, “but it does promote international bird on shoulder.”
References to pictographs, speech balloons, “the different lexicons,” are scattered throughout this collection, signaling Murray’s new interest in overt symbols, with the rudimentary nature of human communication in the face of cultural barriers and (more pertinently) cultural conflicts. To embody these messages, Murray deliberately thickens his verbal strokes and inflicts structural simplicity on these poems. “The New Hieroglyphics” is merely a linear list of pictographs, but punchy as many of them are, the result, overall, is a bit monotonous and jejune. This type of wordplay was evident thirty years ago, in Murray’s 1974 collection, Lunch and Counter Lunch:

why not name suburbs for ideas
which equally have shaped our years?

I shall play a set of tennis
in the gardens of Red Menace

Shall I scorn to plant a dahlia
in the soil of White Australia?

The difference is that a poem like “The Canberra Suburbs’ Infinite Extension” (above) injects a hint of levity, and a dose of leavening, into a volume generally packed with meatier stuff. Poems the Size of Photographs presents much less contrast, in terms of both the weight of its ideas and the forms they take. These new poems are playful and a pleasure to read, but they offer no sense of amazement-of, in Murray’s own words, “working always beyond// your own intelligence.” I fear Murray had more enlightening (and more prophetic) things to say about modernity in 1983, when he didn’t install the theme at the overt centre of his book. This diminutive new volume reminds me uncomfortably of another stanza from 1987’s “Poetry and Religion”, with its reverence for “the large poem in loving repetition,”-”A poem, compared with an arrayed religion,/ may be like a soldier’s one short marriage night/ to die and live by. But that is a small religion.”
Jana Prikryl (Books in Canada)
-- Books in Canada

Inside This Book (Learn More)
Browse and search another edition of this book.
Browse Sample Pages
Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Back Cover
Search inside this book:

Customer Reviews

4.0 out of 5 stars
5 star
0
4 star
2
3 star
0
2 star
0
1 star
0
See both customer reviews
Share your thoughts with other customers

Most helpful customer reviews

By Grady Harp TOP 100 REVIEWER on May 20 2003
Format: Hardcover
Les Murray is an iconoclast poet. His style is very much his own and while his precedents are apparent in ee cummings, John Berryman, and even Gerard Manley Hopkins, his voice remains one of a singer on the plains of the Australian landscape. This collection of short poems forces him (by choice) into brevity and for him this is not an easy assignment. Each poem is indeed like a photograph of a captured thought or sight or flight of fancy that he then gives to us as though we are in his darkroom, watching the meanings alter with each bath solution. Example:
"THE MEANING OF EXISTENCE Everything except language/knows the meaning of existence./Trees, plants, rivers, time/know nothing else. They express it/moment by moment as the universe. //
Even this fool of a body/lives it in part, and would/have full dignity within it/but for the ignorant freedom/of my talking mind." Terse, funny, touching, self critical.....this is a warm little volume of beautifully wrought poems. Makes you want more.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again.
By I X Key on March 28 2003
Format: Hardcover
This sells so much less than his selected poems, it's absurd. It's not as if the selected poems is the only worthwhile writing of his. The sounds of this book are intense, so great; from the beginning all the way though, he has a powerful ear. & the thoughts & poetry his mind offers in this book are so crazy. It often flirts with nature poetry, but it is not nature poetry (don't worry). It's very modern. It's smart, & pretty carefree, also with some autobiographical little poems & Australian mythology. I learned that some of these are autobiographical from a reading of his I attended recently. These poems are, in fact, even much cooler than I was able to tell at the reading. I wouldn't say he's one of the greatest living masters by any means, but this is fun writing. You should read this. You'll like it. It won't take long.
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No Sending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback. If this review is inappropriate, please let us know.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again.

Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 3 reviews
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Murmurs from the Darkroom May 20 2003
By Grady Harp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Les Murray is an iconoclast poet. His style is very much his own and while his precedents are apparent in ee cummings, John Berryman, and even Gerard Manley Hopkins, his voice remains one of a singer on the plains of the Australian landscape. This collection of short poems forces him (by choice) into brevity and for him this is not an easy assignment. Each poem is indeed like a photograph of a captured thought or sight or flight of fancy that he then gives to us as though we are in his darkroom, watching the meanings alter with each bath solution. Example:
"THE MEANING OF EXISTENCE Everything except language/knows the meaning of existence./Trees, plants, rivers, time/know nothing else. They express it/moment by moment as the universe. //
Even this fool of a body/lives it in part, and would/have full dignity within it/but for the ignorant freedom/of my talking mind." Terse, funny, touching, self critical.....this is a warm little volume of beautifully wrought poems. Makes you want more.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
good book March 28 2003
By I X Key - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This sells so much less than his selected poems, it's absurd. It's not as if the selected poems is the only worthwhile writing of his. The sounds of this book are intense, so great; from the beginning all the way though, he has a powerful ear. & the thoughts & poetry his mind offers in this book are so crazy. It often flirts with nature poetry, but it is not nature poetry (don't worry). It's very modern. It's smart, & pretty carefree, also with some autobiographical little poems & Australian mythology. I learned that some of these are autobiographical from a reading of his I attended recently. These poems are, in fact, even much cooler than I was able to tell at the reading. I wouldn't say he's one of the greatest living masters by any means, but this is fun writing. You should read this. You'll like it. It won't take long.
0 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Review for Poems the Size of Photographs Sept. 25 2009
By J. Munn - Published on Amazon.com
Verified Purchase
I bought a used copy for cheap as I needed the book for my English class. I expected it to be beaten and old, with the jacket torn if it still even had its original covering. But what I got was a book in great condition. It looked completely new, and every page was straight and clean. It also came in really fast.


Feedback