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This report is taken from PN Review 249, Volume 46 Number 1, September - October 2019.

Encountering Les
A Covenant with Likeness: My Encounter with Les Murray
Jonathan E. Hirschfeld
In 1992 Michael Schmidt introduced me to Les Murray, in the hope that he would sit for me as part of a series of portrait sculptures I was planning to make of poets. Many years before a fellow student had asked me, with a mixture of irony and incredulity, why anyone would model a head out of clay toward the end of the twentieth century. I recall feeling that my urge to do this was something as natural as life itself, and I wondered what was missing in her. As I do not work from photographs but insist on sittings with the subject, early on I learned that this project would be unrealistic in many cases. I came close with Seamus Heaney, but ultimately he was unavailable. However he appreciated my portrait of Czeslaw Milsoz and proposed a title for the series that summed up the challenge, as he saw it – ‘a covenant with likeness’. The engagement had a moral dimension that I felt strongly, and especially so with Les Murray.

Planning the encounter took some doing. Les wrote freely, by hand, from afar, frequently on large format postcards. Prior to meeting on one of his European reading tours he had sent photographs of himself, and pointed me to a poem he had written about one of them. The photos were of little use; indeed they were misleading, but the poem told me a lot. It began:
If this portrait has survived
its subject’s absorption in the absolute
Which is either God or death

It will first have ...


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