September 24, 2003

Joan Murray

The new issue of the Poetry Project newsletter has a nice little article by John Ashbery in it about the poet Joan Murray, whom Auden had picked as his first Yale Younger poet in 1947. Murray, who died at 25 and wrote most of her work in the last year and half of her life (Auden was a teacher of hers at the New School and made a special request that a ms. of hers be submitted), has an exquisite "ear" -- the relish for the extra syllable, the knowledge when to make a line sprawl or contract, the off-rhyme -- that Ashbery compares to the effect of waves washing up on shore. Here's a poem of hers I found online -- most of them were titled by her editor, using the first line of the poem, so let's assume this one is called "Sleep, Little Architect":

Sleep, little architect. It is your mother's wish
That you should lave your eyes and hang them up in dreams.
Into the lowest sea swims the great sperm fish.
If I should rock you, the whole world would rock within my arms.

Your father is a greater architect than even you.
His structure falls between high Venus and far Mars.
He rubs the magic of the old and then peers through
The blueprint where lies the night, the plan the stars.

You will place mountains too, when you are grown.
The grass will not be so insignificant, the stone so dead.
You will spiral up the mansions we have sown.
Drop your lids, little architect. Admit the bats of wisdom into your head.

I don't have Ashbery's article here, but writing my short review of the Yale Younger Poets anthology several years ago, I liked her work (as I did most of what Auden picked), though all I wrote was: "There is some surprisingly good work from two little-known poets whose single volumes were from the series, Joan Murray (who died at 25) and Robert Horan, all chosen by Auden; there is also some embarrassing work that, ironically, is mostly taken from volumes that were among the series' bestsellers." Well, now I feel bad for not giving her more of a plug -- I sound downright condescending, but that's because the anthology itself was so dull (hence the "surprise"). I can't find any of the poetry of Robert Horan online -- he may still be alive, though born in 1922 -- so I guess I'll have to get a copy of that anthology again to see if he's any good. Anyone heard of him?

Which reminds me of another poet who died young, Emily Greenely -- geez, I don't remember if that's her name exactly, but I picked her out of the New Coast issue of Oblek when putting together the first issue of Arras back in 1756 or so -- others were Moxley, Derksen, John Byrum and I think Fitterman, can't remember.

Anyway, I was saddened to hear that she had died -- I thought her work really stood out in that issue, lively and compact -- but always assumed that she would have her work collected in the near future and have a little book. Stupid optimism! (I thought the subways would stay at $1 forever, also.) But outside of Oblek and that first issue of Arras, which was just a stapled thing I put together at MOMA by coming in earlier and "liberating" the copy machine (100 copies or so), I haven't seen anything of hers. William Corbett is her executor and I believe was a teacher of hers. Any news out there about her? Boston in the house? Be nice to put together a collection of her work for some small press.

Posted by Brian Stefans at September 24, 2003 10:21 AM | TrackBack

Hi Brian. Shiny issue 9/10 contains eight poems of Emily Greenley's, along with a note by Corbett. I happen to have an extra copy of the issue and would be happy to give it to you if you don't have one stashed away somewhere.

Here's one of the poems, entitled "for I.":

for I.

I wish I lived in a blue black glass
or I wish I hadn't lived at all,

& I dream of subliming to a free essence,
watching, invisible, rambling,

& I want to go to a theatre
where your head is a huge balloon

Resting gravely above the audience,
and my special head none the less.

* * * * *

And here's the end of the note by Corbett:

"...not yet twenty-four, she took her own life. With the help of her parents and her friends Rolf Noyer and Noah de Lissovoy, I gathered as many of her poems as I could. At present Nick Lawrence is editing a book of them."

So apparently a book is in the works, but precisely where in the works I don't know. To say that work is "haunting" is certainly cliche, but given what little I've read and know of her and her poetry, I'd be hard pressed to find a better word.

Posted by: David Perry at September 26, 2003 03:47 PM

Hello Brian Stefans,
I've just found out about a Joan Murray whose poetry I like very much. I did a search for some more work of hers online, and your posting came up. The only thing is, the Joan Murray whose I read is still alive. Two of her pieces were recently published in the 5th volume of LUNA. This can't be the same poet?

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Whoa. I chanced upon this website while looking for something closely related, and I have to say I'd like very much to get my hands on this magazine 9/10 (??) with Emily Greenley's poems (I'm not sure if that refers to volume, or issue, or a specific date). You see, I am Emily's younger brother and I've been searching for her poems on and off with little success, as nearly all of her work was left in the hands of her friends, who now seem to be resurrecting her poetry. This is how it should be, I suppose; my sister's friends cared more about her poetry than my parents ever could. If there is an upcoming book of her collected poems (as there is rumored to be?), I must know when it's coming out. If you have any information about where her poetry has been published or if you were a friend of Emily's, do not hesitate to contact me.

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