Interview with Author Murray Alfredson

My guest today is Murray Alfredson.  Hello!  Welcome to Writing in the Modern Age!  It’s such a pleasure to have you here.

Can you tell us a little bit about your book? When did it come out? Where can we get it? gleaming clouds / Murray Alfredson; artwork by Jyoti. Brisbane: Interactive Press, 2013.

Publisher's website:, where one can browse a sample of half a dozen poems; it is also available at many online bookstores around the world (Amazon; Google; B & N; etc.)

It is a collection of poems written in various verse forms and on various topics. The poems are arranged into four broad sections: Myth and reflection; Turns (satiric and comic poems with a twist); Songs of joy, sorrow and equanimity; and Translations (from Old Norse, Middle High German and modern German). Some of the themes are the two traditional poetry subjects, love and death, the fleetingness of all things and ideas, mental illness, social criticism, and nature poems. 

Is there anything that prompted your latest book ? Something that inspired you?

No one thing, Marie. Being a collection, each work in it has its own separate origin, sometimes the arising of a thought, a memory of a friend, a conversation, an encounter with a non-human animal, a conversation with a friend and so forth. For example, the poem, "Wren" appears at first sight to be about those elusive birds, and it is. But less noticeable in there is the observer, the 'I' of the poem. And were he or she not part of the scene, the wrens might have been less reclusive. The observer is an unmentioned influence. But initial impetus to write the poem arose from a conversation with a poet friend, John Malone, about quantum physics and Schroedinger's cat, about which John had written a poem. I enjoyed John's poem, though one reaction was that a cat is none so elusive as a twitchy wren. My memories over the years of wrens returned to consciousness; I began the poem, wrote it in a very short time as I was traveling home in the train, revised as I went along and as I typed it into my computer. There grew the poem.



From the underbrush
then and now like pins
or tiny razors, his twitters
pierce the creek-bed stillness
deep in the ravine.

Do I in just splits
of moments glimpse
in leafage-gaps
a fleck of blue?
Unconsciously he teases;
side-glanced colour-flicker
but never when I look.
Pictured by mind’s eye,
in dainty elegance,
disembodied voice?

And drab wren-dam?
Twig- or bird-twitch?
Wren pair

Other sources can be particular experiences, sometimes soon after the event, sometimes recalled long after.  One of my experiences in life is that a number of people around me have killed themselves. "Young bones" arose because I recollected a woman, a fellow student who some years into her career slew herself. I had written poems on others, but not yet on her. So I wrote that poem, even though it was some forty years after her death.

…I do not know just why Anne took
the coal-gas route; history honours, archivist,
but years long punctuated with psychotic bouts
chlorpromazine, that mind-divorcing drug, did not
quite hold at bay.  Did her heavy future stretch
too far its terrors?  This much I know, that schizophrenics
rarely make old bones.

"Sky message" was my immediate response to seeing exactly that scene, a sky-writer painting that vapour trail in the air, the warmth of the day and the light breeze dispersing it quite quickly.

Sky message

The pilot flushed with holy thought
believes his message comes from god;
he paints with vapour on the sky:
Jesus loves you.

Yet this I know: the world with two
great elements, with wind and heat,
in twenty minutes blows away
that man’s eternal verity.

Does that give some indication how various the triggers to the poems in the collection are?

So, when did you know you wanted to write?  Or has it always been a pastime of yours?

That I cannot tell you exactly, but it was later than with some people, who start out in their teens and earlier. I made my first beginnings late in my undergraduate years, and kept notebooks with me wherever I went in my early and mid twenties. But even then, I was still busy with studies. But always writing poetry was the thing for me, and that is a very difficult craft to master. Later in my professional life, I let the writing drop away. Things like teaching took over my attentions almost entirely. I did do a little translating of poetry to keep my hand in just a little. In the main, however, I have taken up after retiring through ill health. Suddenly I had the issue, what to do with the rest of my life. Since then, I have felt I am always just at the beginning. Perhaps that will carry me through into extreme old age.

Do you have any favorite authors?

Favourite authors, Marie? I could answer, too many, as I read in both German and English, and each going back into Medieval times. I might read authors writing today, like Gresham or Brown, but really, I can live without them, and they do not stay in my mind as do authors like Hemingway or in my country Xavier Herbert who have rather more depth to them. Okay, I am bigger on poets, and I suppose my very favourite would be Friedrich Hölderlin. Others might have been somewhat greater, like Goethe or Rainer Maria Rilke. Of the Germans, I am also very fond of Paul Celan, with whom I can empathise as a Jew caught up by the Nazis, who murdered his mother.  Celan was a master of intensity in his short poems.  Of the English poets, despite it seeming very traditional, I have to start with Chaucer, and then come forward through Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, the meta-physicals. Into the 20th century, I would have to pick out Yeats, Robert Graves, Robert Frost and in my country, Gwen Harwood, Judith Wright, A.D. Hope and James McAuley. These are all members of the Dead Poets Society.  I’ve noted only two women among these, though I am very attracted to women’s poetry for its depth.  One I might mention is a living American poet, Lisa Alvarado, who writes with a very strong feminine voice.  She is particularly powerful on child sexual abuse and one the experience of women’s work.

Do you write in a specific place?  Time of day?

Place? Time of day? No favourite place, really, but I do sit a lot at my computer. Particularly fruitful are those times when I am commuting alone. In fact, I feel naked going out unless I have pen and paper with me, or even pencil. Not only for writing, but also for those other related tasks like planning submissions to journals.

I have to agree there, Murray.  I carry a pen and paper with me as well.

So, are there any words you'd like to impart to fellow writers?  Any advice? 

Well, I find my writing comes from me, so in one way or another my values, the things I value most, find their way into my writing. So my main concentration is on my craft as a poet and as a writer. I love words. I am fascinated by their origins and their history, how they have changed over the years, as I regard their history as above all their meaning. I never cease to be amazed at times how words can return to their old meanings. Words can be so rich if used to their fullest. So weigh your words well. Appeal to the senses. Writing cannot really depict anything; all it can do is evoke experiences, and all those experiences as the impact on our consciousness. So appeal to the senses by suggesting the experiences of the senses, including our minds. Do this consciously, appeal not only to our sight and hearing, but also to our dominant senses like touch, smell and taste. But, that does not mean to describe in detail; that can be done as the process in time. Even if that time is the time in which a person becomes aware of all the detail. Adalbert Stifter was a master of creating this sort of fine sensitivity.

Above all, though, be sparing with your words and syllables. To write the same thing in three syllables instead of seven is an enormous savings, or even three instead of four. The fewer syllables one uses, the more concentrated the impact of what we say. That can mean things like using short words, avoiding participles as parts of the verb, particularly present participles, and being sparing with adjectives and adverbs. And if one must use an adjective, consider making that adjective active by using a present participle. Think how much more concentrated a blow from an umbrella thrust than from a fist. Compact the wallop.

That, you might say, is all very well for poets, but for storywriters? I came across a piece of advice for storywriters the other day. Treat your novel as though it were a poem.

That's interesting advice, Murray.  

Here is the blurb for The gleaming clouds.

Alfredson has many moods, many dictions, many themes.  He at once glories in and laments the ephemeral, the only lasting quality in his world.  This harmonises with his Buddhist outlook on life.  His is a religious sensibility that draws, however, on many traditions and myths, one of respect for all beings, the soils, the rocks, the plants, the people and other animals, the living, the dead.  The moods range widely, from the tortures of mental illness through deep serenity to fun, love joys, wry humour and satire.  He works with sharp thoughts, sharp images and often singing words. He writes and translates in varied forms from ancient to disciplined free verse and has a way of surprising even his poet friends.

Here is an excerpt.

Kangaroo paws

My anigozanthos’ hollow stems reach
taller than I stand, at base
perhaps one centimetre through,
tapered to half or less before
they branch and branch in slender stalks
that hold the blooms towards their tips,
clustered, dark-red, sparse-haired, cuplike
sheaths pale green inside, that split
and split to form six-pointed stars,
high haloed collars for six bright yellow
stamens, slit in turn from a common
pallid ribbon of mystery
swallowed deep within that sleeve.

Amazing, though, the gracile stems;
New Holland honeyeaters, and even
wattlebirds ride the dark and springy
green, push their brush-tongues deep
inside those fleshy nectar-cups.


Abelard to Heloise

The cost, the cost,
how terrible
the cost of loving
your uncle sliced
from me that night
he burst my door,
flooded my chamber
with toughs and torches.

I’ll never know,
though, was it mercy
or torturous
intent to tong
a glowing coal
to cauterize
those tiny spurting

The sear burnt fiercer
through me far
than rapid razor;
demanned they left me
lifelong to linger.

I ache, I ache,
I still ache on,
Heloise for you,
ache that I dared not
defy the Church,
own you as wife
more publicly,
ache for children
ache for the belly
that did not swell,
again, again
from livelong loving,
dainty lacework
stretched in skin.

How brilliant might
young Astrolabe,
have been, and those
not-born, we failed
to rear as mind-stars,
outshining far
father, mother,
outstarring even
thought-born siblings
penned on vellum.

Above all else
I ache for you
nightlong beside me,
our murmured love.


Author Bio
Murray Alfredson is a former librarian, lecturer in librarianship and Buddhist Associate in the Multi-Faith Chaplaincy at Flinders University.  He has published essays on Buddhist meditation and on inter-faith relations, and poems, poetry translations and essays on poetics in journals and anthologies in Australia, UK, USA, Canada, and Sweden, a short collection, ‘Nectar and light’, in Friendly Street new poets, 12, Adelaide: Friendly Street Poets and Wakefield Press, 2007, and a full-length collection, The gleaming clouds,  Brisbane: Interactive Press, 2013.  A further collection, Trees on the slope, has been submitted for publication.

He has won a High Beam poetry award 2004, the Poetry Unhinged Multicultural Poetry Prize 2006, the Friendly Street Poets Political poetry prize 2009, and was nominated for the Pushcart Prize in 2009 and again in 2012.

He lives on the Fleurieu Peninsula.



  1. They're all lovely, but Wren and Old Bones are my faves. I, too have a relationship with the animals outside my window and have lost dear friends too young. Well done interview, Murray and Marie!

  2. Too late to post comment now. But Murray had it. Uniques in the flow of words that reveal his hidden sweet soul. Some thing we need in these grim days.


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