On Joan Murray

Patrick McGuinness

Joan Murray died of a heart defect in 1942, at the age of 24. Her first book, Poems, was published five years later, after her manuscript won the Yale Younger Poets Prize, which was judged by Auden. Murray had been his student at the New School in 1940 and, not caring for any of the manuscripts he had been sent, he asked her mother if he could publish her work instead. She agreed, but not before accusing Auden of killing Joan by infecting her with ‘poetry fever’. The book came out in 1947, edited – over-edited, it now seems – by Grant Code, a friend of Murray’s mother. Until now, this has been the only available edition of her work. Her poetry circulated on photocopies and photocopies of photocopies, distributed for teaching or among friends and colleagues. In 2003, John Ashbery claimed that a trunk containing Murray’s manuscripts had been lost by removal men when her papers were being shipped to the archive at Smith College where they are now held. In 2014, an inquiry by Mark Ford, who’d written on Murray for Poetry, prompted the trunk’s rediscovery (as Farnoosh Fathi tells us in her introduction, it had a dent in its side consistent with having fallen off the back of a lorry).

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