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The first appearance of this award-winning writer's work since the 1940s, this collection, which includes an introduction by John Ashbery, restores Joan Murray's striking poetry to its originally intended form. Though John Ashbery hailed Joan Murray as a key influence on his work, Murray’s sole collection, Poems, published after her death at the early age of twenty-four and The first appearance of this award-winning writer's work since the 1940s, this collection, which includes an introduction by John Ashbery, restores Joan Murray's striking poetry to its originally intended form. Though John Ashbery hailed Joan Murray as a key influence on his work, Murray’s sole collection, Poems, published after her death at the early age of twenty-four and selected by W. H. Auden for inclusion in the Yale Series of Younger Poets, has been almost entirely unavailable for the better part of half a century. Poems was put together by Grant Code, a close friend of Murray’s mother, and when Murray’s papers, long thought to be lost, reappeared in 2013, it became clear that Code had exercised a heavy editorial hand. This new collection, edited by Farnoosh Fathi from Murray’s original manuscripts, restores Murray’s raw lyricism and visionary lines, while also including a good deal of previously unpublished work, as well as a selection of her exuberant letters.


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The first appearance of this award-winning writer's work since the 1940s, this collection, which includes an introduction by John Ashbery, restores Joan Murray's striking poetry to its originally intended form. Though John Ashbery hailed Joan Murray as a key influence on his work, Murray’s sole collection, Poems, published after her death at the early age of twenty-four and The first appearance of this award-winning writer's work since the 1940s, this collection, which includes an introduction by John Ashbery, restores Joan Murray's striking poetry to its originally intended form. Though John Ashbery hailed Joan Murray as a key influence on his work, Murray’s sole collection, Poems, published after her death at the early age of twenty-four and selected by W. H. Auden for inclusion in the Yale Series of Younger Poets, has been almost entirely unavailable for the better part of half a century. Poems was put together by Grant Code, a close friend of Murray’s mother, and when Murray’s papers, long thought to be lost, reappeared in 2013, it became clear that Code had exercised a heavy editorial hand. This new collection, edited by Farnoosh Fathi from Murray’s original manuscripts, restores Murray’s raw lyricism and visionary lines, while also including a good deal of previously unpublished work, as well as a selection of her exuberant letters.

30 review for Drafts, Fragments, and Poems: The Complete Poetry (NYRB Poets)

  1. 5 out of 5

    William

    Great article in The New Yorker Great article in The New Yorker

  2. 4 out of 5

    Brendan

    In my palms lie these two clear efforts of my eyes, The very essence of this tormented moment. These are the words Joan Murray gave to Eurydice in the instant Orpheus turns to look at her — the climactic moment of "Orpheus: Three Eclogues," the longest, most ambitious, and most "finished" of the poems in this extraordinary book. It's tempting to associate Murray herself with Eurydice. Since her early death in 1942, at only 24, she has been the subject of repeated attempts at resurrection, or r In my palms lie these two clear efforts of my eyes, The very essence of this tormented moment. These are the words Joan Murray gave to Eurydice in the instant Orpheus turns to look at her — the climactic moment of "Orpheus: Three Eclogues," the longest, most ambitious, and most "finished" of the poems in this extraordinary book. It's tempting to associate Murray herself with Eurydice. Since her early death in 1942, at only 24, she has been the subject of repeated attempts at resurrection, or rescue from oblivion, by a succession of great poets: W.H. Auden, John Ashbery, Mark Ford, and now Farnoosh Fathi, who has shepherded Murray's poems back into print after 70 years among the shades. The story behind this book is almost as compelling as the poetry itself. "Poems by Joan Murray (1917 - 1942)" was published by Yale in 1947, the first book chosen by Auden in his celebrated tenure as judge of the Younger Poets series. But Auden didn't so much "choose" the book as seek it out himself, given that Murray (who had once been a student of his) was more than four years dead, having succumbed to a heart condition before she could make much of a name for herself. The book, edited by an acquaintance of Murray's mother named Grant Code, was noticed politely, if a bit dismissively, at the time. The New Yorker, in a two-sentence review, noted her "unmistakably poetic and original" voice with the caveat that her "technical equipment and imaginative powers were still in the process of development when she died." Gerald Sykes in the New York Times Book Review was a little less kind: "[O]ne is moved deeply by her insentient pathos; still the poetry gives the impression of being unborn." William Meredith, writing in Poetry magazine, had the highest praise: "The range [this book] explores would be remarkable in any poet. ... It is to be hoped that the book will be widely read and that the anthologists will bring the fine voice of Joan Murray to a wider audience still." It wasn't, and they didn't. With her book long out of print, Murray made occasional appearances in anthologies, but she was more or less completely forgotten in 2003, when John Ashbery (who owed his own career to Auden's Yale judgeship) wrote a short piece for the Poetry Project Newsletter in which he placed her among "the poets of the Forties whom I most enjoy rereading." That was enough to get Ashbery's many fans interested. The poet Shanna Compton uploaded a PDF to the Internet in 2006, and Murray became a sort of underground poet — though rare hard copies could only be had from online used book dealers for $150 or so. Then, in 2014, Mark Ford, Ashbery's British literary descendent, published his essay "Joan Murray and the Bats of Wisdom" in Poetry. This was my own introduction to Murray. In the essay, Ford writes, Murray’s book seems to me a startling achievement for a poet who died at an even younger age than Keats, a month short of her twenty-
fifth birthday. It is surprising, particularly after John Ashbery’s 
eloquent praise of her work in 2003, that she has attracted so little critical attention, by which I actually mean none: this essay is, as far as I can tell, the first ever written on her oeuvre. I hoped Ford's essay would bring enough renewed attention that Yale would republish the 1947 book. Happily, I was wrong. Instead, the young poet Farnoosh Fathi latched onto Ford's greatest piece of news. The trunk containing Murray's original manuscripts was long thought to have been lost 50 years ago by the men who moved it, along with her mother Peggy Murray's papers, to the Smith College archives. Supposedly the trunk fell out of the moving van. Ford's exciting news was confined in a coy parenthesis: "(My inquiries to the current Smith archivist about this lost trunk stimulated a search for it, and I am delighted to report that it has now been found.)" Here is where Fathi took over. I found this part of her introduction thrilling: [The] bolstering promise of the trunk electrified me with purpose. I visited the archive at the Sophia Smith Collection in September of 2014, and had the rare and exhilarating privilege of being the first to go through the new acquisitions, the long-lost papers of one of my favorite poets. Now that's the life! What Fathi has done with Murray's poems invites comparison with what Thomas J. Johnson did with Emily Dickinson's in his landmark edition of 1955. Even before Murray's original manuscripts came to light, Grant Code's editorship of the 1947 volume was known to be very "present" on the page — Ashbery called him "well-meaning but somewhat heavy-handed." Code not only regularized punctuation and added titles to untitled pieces, but also substituted his own titles for existing ones and occasionally replaced Murray's word choices. Now I don't think what Code did in 1947 was nearly as egregious as what Lavinia Dickinson and Thomas Wentworth Higginson did with Dickinson in the 1890s — nor, to be fair, does Fathi. In her introduction, she notes "the well-known saga of women's literary history that that editors have 'improved' or 'corrected' their original writings according to their own agendas and perceptions of public taste;" but she later adds, "Still, it's hard not to admire Code's tireless efforts to present what he thought would be the best version of Murray's work." It's easy, on the other hand, to admire what Fathi has done. She diplomatically acknowledges her debt to her predecessors, in part by keeping the sequence that Code chose for the 1947 volume, while boldly and consistently imposing her own editorial decisions upon the poems. The result is a fascinating range of form and voice. Some of the pieces, like "Orpheus" and another longish dialogue-style poem called "An Epithalamium: Marriage Poem for an Age," seem finished, polished: the products of long and studied labor. Others — mostly untitled, many barely punctuated or not at all — read like feverish visions, composed in intensity and probably unfinished. But it's to Fathi's credit that she presents them as they are without trying to "finish" them as Code seems to have tried to. Here is one of several poems titled "Poem," which I think gives a good sense of Murray's wonderfully urgent weirdness: The speed of planes was still upon the noon, The whirling planet stuttered and drew up. Reaction in all quiet quarters tongued its inactivity, Windows were slammed and men stood circles of eternity. Words once spoken spoke themselves. Trees lavished the hour with leaves muttering, And arms extending scissor-clipped the wind. Rocks blocked their way, allowed the atom to titter and be kind. Each misplaced was misplaced once again; If tumbling was not known tumbling was admitted; And you were there alive, awake in your dead places, A well patient among similar well cases. Just the act of typing these lines gives me a new appreciation of how thrilling and strange they are. The verb "tongued" is attached to the subject "reaction" and the direct object "its inactivity." The expected preposition is omitted in "men stood circles of eternity." The imagery is clear enough in "Trees lavished the hour with leaves muttering, / And arms extending scissor-clipped the wind" — but then rocks and tittering atoms assert themselves. What is going on here? I find myself going back to Ashbery, whose 2003 appreciation is included, revised and expanded, as a preface (apparently finished not long before he died last year): What we are left with is the sense of an act accomplished, an act of telling, and a feeling we must take this communication away to study it; something important is hidden there. Repeated readings may not reveal it, but the mere act of reading Murray's poetry always seems to be pushing one closer to the brink of a momentous discovery. If there's a better, or more convincing, case to be made for reading Joan Murray (or indeed poetry at all), I am not the one to make it. (It's worth noting that Ashbery might as well be describing his own best work, too.) This grateful reader extends his thanks to Farnoosh Fathi and the good people at New York Review Books (themselves, to my mind, underappreciated rescuers of out-of-print masterworks) for the fact that this book exists. It's the best "new" poetry I've read in years.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Harrison Phinney

    I am conflicted. Many of the early poems inspired me very much, but once Murray moved from scene-painting to metaphysics, I found her difficult to endure. Her metaphysics are a stilted hodgepodge of gaudy nonsense, to put it bluntly. As she writes herself in a letter, “Very nice too that the hobgoblins of the earth, the toads and toadies, may exude their own morsel of expert abstract metaphysics.” Overall, some worthwhile pieces in here, but I would not recommend this collection. Had Murray reine I am conflicted. Many of the early poems inspired me very much, but once Murray moved from scene-painting to metaphysics, I found her difficult to endure. Her metaphysics are a stilted hodgepodge of gaudy nonsense, to put it bluntly. As she writes herself in a letter, “Very nice too that the hobgoblins of the earth, the toads and toadies, may exude their own morsel of expert abstract metaphysics.” Overall, some worthwhile pieces in here, but I would not recommend this collection. Had Murray reined in her language and focused more on her sublime impressions of the everyday, her work would have been more palatable, and the metaphysics would have sorted themselves out. Instead, she reads like a precocious youngster who wants to race to the finish line.

  4. 4 out of 5

    J.W.D. Nicolello

    At last ordered a copy. Beautiful book. Also, and perhaps of parallel importance [at last/epigraph/poetic trilogy] takes ten years to right, how many to stitch? Till den electric prunes f'r clothed lunch.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Lou Last

    And though it is evening and I am tired, I watch the lean meticulous architect’s hand Gather and space the all too harsh demand; As spider with slender entwined knees, Spun clock-wise by avalanched honey-bees, Turns to the subtle weaving of a more insidious web. So much laughter in the head. So much of the golden apple and the racing, The sly won game and tricks of placing. Now the garden and the mental laughter still, Rejection never given, never made, stands freak upon the hill. Laughter is better quiet, And though it is evening and I am tired, I watch the lean meticulous architect’s hand Gather and space the all too harsh demand; As spider with slender entwined knees, Spun clock-wise by avalanched honey-bees, Turns to the subtle weaving of a more insidious web. So much laughter in the head. So much of the golden apple and the racing, The sly won game and tricks of placing. Now the garden and the mental laughter still, Rejection never given, never made, stands freak upon the hill. Laughter is better quiet, the smile is heard. Images of spare Madonnas, Mary Magdalen and Christ, The uneven walk and the garrulous seeking wine bowl; All loud reflections on the somewhat soul. Bend the head to the out-cupped hand, This is an age for shabby forms and contraband, Life’s macabre and every night replete with its defeats. We are allowed to place one foot before the other, To know some valley or some slaty sea, To hear with weary calm that being born to live, we must live to be. There is small love lost in this strained hour, Youth dropped down has only dreamt the flower. The dance of death now cries out for the undivulged tomorrow. And though it is evening and I am tired, I must gather myself to the mountains, Only to chant that primal unsexed quiet till Doomsday for my pains. *

  6. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

    The initial poems were rather electrifying — the turns of phrase! — but once the metaphysics started I quickly lost interest. The racism, etc. is increasingly apparent. Skipped the letters because they tried too hard to be precious. 3.5

  7. 5 out of 5

    Cooper Renner

    Read about 60 pages of the poetry. Read the intro material, some of the letters. The poems are simply too abstracted and “intellectual” for me: that is, more like essays or scenes than lyric insight. Too much thought, not enough poetry.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Robert Walkley

    An original voice, both formal and wild. The story of her manuscript and her short life is as compelling as the poetry itself. Her voice seems contemporary even though she was writing in the 30’s and 40’s. She reminds me a bit of Larkin and Plath, as well as Frost, especially in her Vermont poems. The manuscript that won her the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1946, judged by Auden, is showcased here. Letters, drafts, and fragments round out the book. A lively introduction tells of the discovery of An original voice, both formal and wild. The story of her manuscript and her short life is as compelling as the poetry itself. Her voice seems contemporary even though she was writing in the 30’s and 40’s. She reminds me a bit of Larkin and Plath, as well as Frost, especially in her Vermont poems. The manuscript that won her the Yale Younger Poets Award in 1946, judged by Auden, is showcased here. Letters, drafts, and fragments round out the book. A lively introduction tells of the discovery of Murray’s papers at Smith College. As with Dickinson, the editors of Murray’s manuscript almost had to act as translators in trying to discern what final shape Murray’s work should take. Another compact and handsome volume in the NYRB series. Definitely worth acquiring and reading.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    Some really excellent pieces - got half way through one of her letters and it was pretty grandiose.

  10. 4 out of 5

    David Schwartz

    Magnificent, stunning lyricism. Sometimes difficult to scan, but worth the effort. I would recommend this to anyone with an interest in modern poetry.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    5 stars for the poet and what she might have become.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    Fantastic

  13. 5 out of 5

    Anna Oates

  14. 5 out of 5

    Evelyn Polcari

  15. 5 out of 5

    Todd SWIFT

  16. 5 out of 5

    Merima Maja

  17. 5 out of 5

    Sherry

  18. 4 out of 5

    John Bird

  19. 5 out of 5

    Tim Pennell

  20. 4 out of 5

    Khashayar Mohammadi

  21. 4 out of 5

    Bob Wake

  22. 5 out of 5

    Alex Burdiss

  23. 4 out of 5

    Wed

  24. 5 out of 5

    Larry

  25. 5 out of 5

    Eric Rickert

  26. 4 out of 5

    Shaw Worth

  27. 4 out of 5

    Rick

  28. 4 out of 5

    Oisín

  29. 5 out of 5

    Lianne

  30. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Chappell

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