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This article is taken from PN Review 246, Volume 45 Number 4, March - April 2019.

on Joan Murray’s Drafts

A Moment’s Life
Jena Schmitt
Drafts, Fragments, and Poems: The Complete Poetry by Joan Murray (NYRB Poets) $16

BORN IN 1917 in London, England, to Canadian parents, Joan Murray moved to Chatham, Ontario, Canada, when she was a child to live with an aunt, uncle and cousins after her parents divorced, her mother an actor and travelling diseuse, often away, her father rarely if ever present in her life. In an essay, ‘Passage on Reading’, Murray writes, ‘The poignancy of lost mothers and lost children and the sadness in the inevitable wandering of lost things grew quite early with me…’. There was a move to Detroit at age fifteen, and three years later to New York City to study acting and dance before focusing on writing at the New School with Auden. In 1942 she died of a heart-valve infection in Saranac Lake, New York, from the rheumatic fever she contracted as a child. She was twenty-four.

Five years after her death, in 1947, Auden published Poems by Joan Murray through the Yale Series of Younger Poets, which makes up the first major section of The Complete Poetry; the second is a selection of letters and prose; the third unpublished drafts, fragments and poems from her papers, which are held at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts. Her archives have yet to be fully processed – for a time a box went missing, having fallen off a truck in transport, later discovered with a dent.

Farnoosh Fathi is a keen editor who helps to reveal Murray’s intelligence and skill, moving as ...

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