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Series: NYRB Poets
Pages: 296
Publication Date: February 6, 2018

Drafts, Fragments, and PoemsThe Complete Poetry

by Joan Murray, preface by John Ashbery, edited by Farnoosh Fathi

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When John Ashbery hailed Joan Murray as a major influence in an essay in 2003, her sole collection Poems, had been out of print for decades. Joan Murray hit the literary scene as a bright talent in American poetry just before her death of a heart condition in 1942. She was only in her twenties. After her death, W.H. Auden selected Murray for the 1946 Yale Younger Poets Prize. As she left behind no definitive edition of her work, her Poems was compiled by Grant Code, a close friend of Murray’s mother. Code heavily edited the manuscript, often streamlining Murray’s raw lyricism, and left out dozens of poems. It had originally been supposed that Murray’s original manuscripts had been lost, but a trove of her writings miraculously resurfaced in 2013. In Collected Poems, Farnoosh Fathi has gone through all of Murray’s papers and reinstated her visionary lines, while also recovering much previously unpublished verse. An heir to W.B. Yeats, Walt Whitman, Hart Crane, and Laura Riding, Murray today, with her vatic lullabies and mythic imagination, still belongs to the future.


In a letter to novelist Helen Anderson, a resolute Joan Murray wrote, “I would rather be mad and bad, erratic and incomprehensible, than vulnerably acquiescent to the drab.” Note how the adjectives in her sentence point to the era’s stereotypes about women’s writing. Luckily for us, every single line in this darkly luminous book proves them to be unwarranted. Murray's poems, wise beyond her years, startle the mind in their brave embrace of dissonance.
—Mónica de la Torre

Had Joan Murray lived beyond her twenty-fifth birthday we’d already know her as a major voice in American poetry, instead of one whose name appears only in lists of the lost. Farnoosh Fathi's fascinating restoration of Murray’s work reinstates some of the poet’s deepest idiosyncrasies, and supplements the contents of the original lone volume with a hearty assortment of previously unpublished fragments and drafts. It arrives as a thrill, vivid with Murray’s irrepressible “mountain of energy” and chewy with its “own personal loud music.”
—Shanna Compton

Up from the archives come poems that will make you feel you’re just learning to read: if vibration is your vocabulary, if unbelonging is your kind of charisma, if you have ever wanted to be a “minnow-silver rain” or to fuck an ocean, if you’re prepared for an empathy so direct that you’d be right to call it otherworldly, Joan Murray is your poet.
—Christine Hume

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.... The improbable poetic adventures her Poems offers have slipped into oblivion, like Eurydice, almost without a ripple.
—Mark Ford, Poetry