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Old 11-08-2017, 05:36 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Default James Merrill

I feel as if I should like James Merrill's poetry. I don't. It does absolutely nothing for me. Right now at least, his poems all may as well read "blah, blah, blah. . ." Can anyone point me to something by Merrill that will give me "a way in"?

I mean, the guy won the Pulitzer. I just don't get it.
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Old 11-08-2017, 05:44 PM
Andrew Szilvasy Andrew Szilvasy is offline
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Lots of mediocre poets have won that, though.

But...I'm with you. I have the Selected edited by J. D. McClatchy,‎ Stephen Yenser, both of whom I respect. I've started it multiple times, and never really get very far into it before I put it aside and pick up something else. I keep trying, though, because I'm supposed to like him.
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Old 11-08-2017, 06:00 PM
Michael Juster Michael Juster is offline
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A little bit like Auden, I'd skip the early & the late poems (I never cared for the Ouija board stuff). If you don't like the poems he was writing at 40, then you won't like the rest.
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Old 11-08-2017, 06:02 PM
john savoie john savoie is offline
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Yes, the Ouija board is a bad sign in a lot of ways.
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Old 11-08-2017, 08:49 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Yenser, a former classmate at U Wisconsin and colleague at UCLA has written beautifully about Merrill—and, I must admit, Steve’s prose is more beautiful than M’s poetry!
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Old 11-08-2017, 09:06 PM
Erik Olson Erik Olson is offline
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I, for my part, have very mixed responses to Merrill; I am not familiar with his opus enough to say what the exact reading list would optimally be; but if I had anything to say on this front... I agreed at the very least with this New York Times article's characterization of the poet's less fortunate tendencies.
The poet is an aesthete, a dandy in the Baudelairean sense, unabashedly so. One critic has referred to Merrill’s style as “New Critical Baroque.” Rococo would probably be more apt. Where a straight line would do, Merrill cannot resist using filigree. But if one were to bypass his work, one would be missing some of the finest poems written in English in the middle of last century, poems like “Mornings in a New House,” “Lost in Translation” or “The Kimono,” a poem that shows Merrill at his most restrained...

A hopeless voluptuary when it comes to language, Merrill is addicted to wordplay, cleverness with form, ingenious rhymes… One can languish amid the poet’s digressions. Merrill’s gifts with language often become his vice. His poetry, when read in quantity, even in this expertly edited selection by J. D. McClatchy and Stephen Yenser, can at times seem like a repast of macaroons and tawny port. He is best read a poem or two at a time…[emphasis my own]
Anyway, I think The Green Eye, or Periwinkles, or The Locusts might be good to read; for one thing, they introduce and prefigure the way in which the poet sees. I read he was a brilliant reader of poetry; here you can hear him read his poem Kimono. He wrote The Victor Dog, an exercise in virtuosity and wit, to Elizabeth Bishop.
Best,
Erik

Last edited by Erik Olson; 11-08-2017 at 09:58 PM.
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Old 11-08-2017, 09:09 PM
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Nicholas F. Nicholas F. is offline
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An audaciously grand, but I think beautiful, poem:

https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poe...ontentId=24646

On the whole, I much prefer Thom Gunn.

Nick

p.s. If Merrill is Baroque, Gunn is Elizabethan. They were both poets out of their time.

Last edited by Nicholas F.; 11-08-2017 at 09:11 PM. Reason: added p.s.
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Old 11-08-2017, 09:41 PM
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Orwn Acra Orwn Acra is offline
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Excuse me, Auden got better and better. I don't think he wrote a really great poem until his 30s, but the late ones have a gay sort of chatty fabulosity about them.

I think the same adjectives can be used to describe Merrill's work as well.
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Old 11-08-2017, 10:11 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Walter, my darling, that's my fear--that Merrill is a gay phenomenon. My very gay mentor at Columbia Richard Howard also loved Merrill's work.

From what I understand Merrill was very handsome, very charming and very, very rich. As for the "fab" quality in his poetry--it is inaccessible to me. I hate that--thinking that I don't get something because I am a (heterometrical) heterosexual.

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 11-08-2017 at 10:26 PM.
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Old 11-08-2017, 10:20 PM
Aaron Poochigian Aaron Poochigian is offline
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Dave Mason published a review of a Merrill biography a few years back. It is highly instructive (especially since, in his very first paragraph, Dave prophetically rebukes me for my "Richie Rich" jab in the previous post): http://hudsonreview.com/2015/08/merr.../#.WgPI1DCIbIV

Last edited by Aaron Poochigian; 11-08-2017 at 10:24 PM.
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