Two weeks after trying the explain the Grand Final to Swedes – a game where one side tries to kick goals and the other side tries to disappear into the ground – the Australian expat community here is all geared up for another burst of national pride, with the great possibility that Aussie boy Les Murray may get the Nobel Prize for Literature, to be announced Thursday 1pm, Stockholm time.
Les is running second favourite, at 7:1, on the Ladbroke’s site, with Italian essayist/novelist Claudio Magris favourite at 6s, and that old fraud Philip Roth at 8s.
Peter Carey and David Malouf are also in the field (informal – there’s no shortlist) but I will eat my earflaps if they get up. For us, it’s Les or nothing – the big man from Bunyah’s epic sprawl, his ceaseless reinvention of the language of nature poetry, his range from short imagist lyrics to verse novels, is what may get us across the line.
The award is impossible to pick, depending on so many factors, other than the quality of the work. For example, since it can only go to living writers, those close to kicking get an inside run – Roth has been very ill which is why this baggy commonplace novelist is so high in the running. Les and Magris are the same age, but Magris looks fitter, by his photo.
Swedish poet Tomas Transtromer is at 8s, has had a debilitating stroke, and would be favourite if he weren’t Swedish – the committee gave it to so many fairly ordinary Scandinavians (though you have to read Haldor Laxness’s Independent People) in the early decades, that Nordic types start with a handicap.
If Transtromer did win it however, you could say it would be a half-win for Australia – the poet/psychologist (he worked with disaffected youth, of course, this being Sweden) says that his entire approach in the second, truly original, half of his career was transformed by a reading of Sydney-boy Kenneth Slessor’s 1920s work Five Bells, his eerie, time-twisting poem about the drowning death of a friend.
Nevertheless, come Thursday lunchtime, I’ll be ululating for Les. He’s a paranoid culture warrior, and no friend of the Left, but his poetry blows the top of my head off, makes me see the world anew, regularly, and makes me proud to be of the place where it came from, and where it could only have come from – and it’s been a long time between drinks on that feeling.