Poetry: Quite a performance

Poetry

Les Murray

RFH, SBC, London

Though Australian high culture has long since silenced the wags who deemed such a concept a contradiction in terms, it's not afraid of getting its hands dirty. Behind the enormously popular TV personae of Aussie celebs Clive James and Barry Humphries, for instance, cogitate a pair of refined aesthetes as happy penning a scholarly monograph as tickling us possums.

Between his unlikely appearance and the bewildering range of his material, the celebrated Australian poet also embodies this cultural dab-handedness but seems able to pull it off without his countrymen's frantic high-brow moonlighting. " is the antithesis of everyone's idea of a poet," says Judith Palmer, the Royal Festival Hall's press officer for literature. "He's a no nonsense guy and delivers without frills, reading very quickly."

As you might hope from an outback dairy farmer turned poet, the 59-year- old's work has won critics over by showing Murray's muse to have her feet planted firmly on the ground. Whether he treats his audience to "Fruitbast Thoughts", a light-hearted performance piece, or the scorching sophisms of "The Beneficiaries" - which ironically considers the holocaust's impact on religion - Murray laces his poetry with a hard-headed wit.

He tours frequently and it's worth catching him in the flesh. Conjure up an image of an editor of The New Oxford Book of Australian Verse, a darling of the poetry circuit, a winner of the TS Eliot Prize and, in the eyes of many, an equal to Seamus Heaney, Derek Walcott and Joseph Brodsky, and Murray in full flow dispels any fears of a delicate, ethereal academic or score-settling post-colonial tub thumper. Poetic heavyweights who admit to getting their first taste of poetry from an Australian gym master are few and far between.

Voice Box, 7.30pm, pounds 4 (0171-960 4242)

Mike Higgins

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