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."
In his letter, he writes, "My endorsement does carry some clout, and I try never to cheapen it … "
Murray told the Herald "various other publishers" had seen his wife's book, Flight From The Brothers Grimm, an account of her family's postwar journey from Budapest to Switzerland and Melbourne.
David Musgrave, the publisher at Puncher & Wattman, said Moving Along: Selected Verse by J. K. Murphy, an 81-year-old Melbourne poet, would be out soon. He thought it appropriate to ask Murray for a comment for the book cover because Murray had published poems by Murphy in Quadrant magazine, where he is literary editor. "If he'd said no, we would have said, 'Fine, thanks,' but he's gone out of his way to offend us," Musgrave said. "He has been very unpleasant and he does seem to court hatred. We refuse to be bullied."
Another eminent poet, David Malouf, launched Puncher & Wattmann three years ago and gave a blurb for one of its books, as have writers such as Helen Garner and John Tranter.