Australian poet Les Murray is one of the best there is. But either he’s been caught out here trading favours or he’s truly the driest wit ever. Asked for a blurb for a J.K. Murphy’s selected, Murray said, sure… if you publish my wife. Murray’s not known for being easy to get along with, so I imagine there was some measure of cynical antagonism intended in his letter. In post-bruhaha commentary, he goes on to bash the blurb, a favourite pastime of mine.
In a letter dated February 13 to the poetry editor of a small publishing house, Puncher & Wattmann, Murray offers to provide a blurb requested for a book by the poet J. K. Murphy in exchange for publication of a “migrant chronicle” by his wife, Valerie. Murray describes and praises his wife’s manuscript and in “a proposal I think eminently fair”, says “if you will read this book and bring it out in print, I will furnish a quality blurb for Mr Murphy’s book and give it as good a boost as you could hope for. Let me know quickly if you wish to enter into this arrangement, and Valerie’s ms. will be swiftly on its way to you.”
Contacted by the Herald yesterday, Murray dismissed the letter as “a joke” and said his intention was to say no to the publisher, “but I said it in a baroque way”. Told it did not read like a joke, he replied, “It reads like, ‘Piss off’, actually.”
For 40 years, he said, “people have been preying on me for free services and this is only a desire to stir trouble. People are forever asking me for blurbs. I’ve been
pestered unmercifully.” Anyway, he said, “blurbs are nonsense – they’re all hyperbole and hype, a publishers’ bad habit. Read the contents of the damned book.”