Meet Author Larry Buttrose — writer of many talents

Larry Buttrose is a writer of such diverse talents that his output as a published author defies umbrella categorisation. Some might regard him first and foremost as a gifted poet whose literary works also include novels and plays. Others will know him as the author of travel books and popular non-fiction titles dealing with aspects of culture and history. As a journalist he is well known for his contributions to various major Australian publications. Most recently he has become known to many as the writing talent behind the non-fiction best seller A Long Way Home, which he co-wrote with Saroo Brierley and which was subsequently made into the award winning and Oscar nominated movie Lion.

Even passing familiarity with this diversity soon reveals unifying qualities that infuse the different writings of Larry Buttrose. The poet’s minutely observant eye and delicately attuned ear are always present and expressed with a directness of phrase that communicates with a pristine clarity.

In a blog post about the writing of A Long Way Home he describes the chaotic peak hour in Delhi as:
This was no simple traffic jam, but buses, trucks, cars, cycles and motorcycles, taxis and tuk-tuks, animals, humans, all packed in so tightly and densely together that they appeared to constitute a multi-hued paste in the process of being extruded millimetre by millimetre from a tube.

His first collection of poems One Steps Across The Rainbow was published in 1974, when he was just 21. Now, more than 40 years later BryshaWilson Press has published a selection of his finest poems gathered in one volume: Selected Poems by Larry Buttrose (paperback $14.99 and eBook $8.99, BryshaWilson Press, 2017).

The poems range across matters of life and death, sometimes abstractly as in Unburied Dead (The elements mistreat them, soaking then burning, / Snow renders them solid, road humps.) and sometimes autobiographically as in Sister (The babe died, my father said / to the black telephone. / He took me to the zoo that day; / Neither of us looked.) Subjects like politics, art, and religion offer scope for profound and witty reflection. Sometimes the poet is the observer of the action, sometimes a player and sometimes an observer of himself as a player. The latter is delightfully realised in Disc-oh!, a wryly funny detailing of a dream sequence in which the poet invents a gadget toy that makes everybody very happy, especially the poet thanks to the success of his dream investment!

While most of the poems are set in Australia, some are set in other lands, including America, England, Italy, Spain and Sri Lanka, to name a few of the many countries through which Larry Buttrose has travelled and about which he has written. Although the foreign settings are just an incidental part of the content in the poems, for Buttrose poetry and travel combined to produce one of the defining moments of his entire life, when in 1976 he left Australia’s shores on a fanciful odyssey in quest of obtaining a poet’s blessing from Robert Graves, the English poet, novelist, classicist and critic. The experience of seeking out Graves to ask for his blessing served the young Buttrose well in as much as he remained true to his poet calling over the years since and was even inspired to write the novel originally published as The Maze of the Muse, in 1998 (Flamingo, an imprint of HarperCollins).

When BryshaWilson Press approached him for the publishing rights to re-issue that novel as an eBook, he revisited the manuscript and revised it extensively. The result is a distinctly new book, which also includes an Afterword telling the true story of the author’s meeting with Robert Graves in 1976. In recognition of all this, the new edition was renamed The Muse of the Maze (eBook $9.99, BryshaWilson Press, 2016).

This beautifully written novel is vividly evocative of time and place, taking the reader into the raffish, bohemian English-speaking community existing on the fringe of Barcelona’s underworld. Co-incidentally both The Muse of the Maze and A Long Way Home are first person narratives and while the two works are radically different in many ways, the energy behind the words driving each story is quite similar. With The Muse of the Maze the author had all the freedom that fiction writing offers; A Long Way Home had to find Saroo Brierley’s voice and sustain it as the story gathered momentum. One thing is certain: in Larry Buttrose we have a gifted storyteller while the range and quality of his output make him one of the most versatile, accomplished and interesting authors writing in Australia today.

The Balmain Library is hosting a special event featuring Larry Buttrose in conversation with journalist, critic and intellectualcommentator Elizabeth Farrelly at which Selected Poems will have its official launch. It is on this Thursday, October 5, 2017, 6.30–8.00 pm. The event is free but bookings are needed for catering information. All welcome. Please book here