Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Poems by Joan Murray

shanna compton has done a wonderful thing by posting to her website a PDF file (10M) of Poems by Joan Murray 1917-1942, which was selected by w.h. auden for publication in the the yale younger poets series (1947). this comes in the context of larry fagin's including murray's book in a list of under-recognized poets that ca conrad had originally solicited and ron silliman posted. (in my response to conrad i talk about another yale younger poet of the 1940s chosen by auden that conrad and i are big fans of, rosalie moore. more about her in another post...)

i've yet to work my way through this fairly substantial (142 pp) collection tho by my initial forays into it i'm very excited to do so. it appears to be a truly rare item on the marketplace at present -- currently no copies available via bookfinder.com, whereas 23 copies of moore's The Grasshopper's Man and Other Poems available from just over $7. (an OCLC worldcat search shows 171 libraries holding copies of the murray to 170 of the moore.)

here's a joan murray poem that i select almost at random if not for the fact that the title appealed to me.

     Poem Into Sleep

     In the night we peopled evil forests,
     Running naked with our hands against our mouths,
     Leaping from the channels to the brief hill-crests,
     Frantic at the panting bog and cypress wreaths.

     Now in this sleep we river-run,
     Eye to eye, mouth to mouth unspoken;
     For rock is flesh and the oval sun
     Eye to eye, mouth to mouth unspoken.

     Walls of early smoke the leaves,
     Each in an autumn's roisterous trail.
     Even the dream a pulse of sheaves
     Out of the hoar-mist tangled and frail.

     Scale of the lifting eye on-set;
     Oh, and a sigh and the pass of years.
     The red-bent sea-spliced season met
     Only to flay our primoridal fears.

there's a lot of great stuff going on here. "peopled" suggests the speaker might be something other than human. i love the sound of "frantic at the panting bog" and how the repeating short "a" and nasal-plosive "nt" consonants lead to the short "i" only to have the bottom drop out with the big hollow plosive/velar "bog." i love her compounds, which remind me of marianne moore: "river-run" (could she have known finnegans wake?), "red-bent sea-spliced season" (again with short and long "e"s modulating through sibilants). i find her figurative language to be very arresting: "rock is flesh and oval sun" (perhaps equating the sun with the eye/I), "walls of early smoke the leaves" -- is there a copula verb omitted here making an implied metaphor ("walls of early smoke [are] the leaves") or is this a paratactic stacking of noun phrases? -- "the dream a pulse of sheaves" (again with long "e"s modulating through nasals, liquids and sibilants). there's even in "the hoar-frost tangled and frail" a bit of late victorian decadence creeping through.

shanna's also added her own preface to this PDF edition, which is a great stopgap measure until (if?) she goes ahead with a lulu reprint. of course in a civilized country there would be the kind of support for what this book, and rosalie moore's books, and so many others need -- financial support from public or private institutions to do proper (maybe even scholarly), offset, perfectbound editions.


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