By James Merrill
Knopf Publishing Group, Hardcover, 9780375411366, 752pp.
Publication Date: October 26, 2004
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Following James Merrill’s widely celebrated Collected Poems and Collected Novels and Plays, this volume gives us, most intimately, the man himself and his charmingly straightforward exploration of how he became himself. As much as any poet of our time, Merrill conceived of his work and his life as warp and woof, and the prose collected here (from his juvenilia and occasional pieces through his critical writings to his interviews and memoir) shows how bound up in his craft (itself a recurrent topic) were his readings and reflections, his travels and friendships. Even Merrill’s most devoted readers will be startled anew at the range of his aesthetic concerns and the depth of his knowledge. Dante and Ponge, Cavafy and Montale, Elizabeth Bishop and Wallace Stevens, all figure prominently here, and the volume is shot through with commentary on music, especially opera, and descriptions of the world’s great cities–including New York, Paris, Istanbul, and Kyoto–and their cultural treasures. The volume closes resoundingly with A Different Person, Merrill’s memoir of his young life, in which he travels to Europe to explore the culture, comes of age as a gay man, and faces down his legacy as the son of the renowned financier Charles E. Merrill.
As Merrill remarks to one interviewer here, a poet is “someone choosing the words he lives by.” This volume, a cross section of a singularly complex literary life, showcases the care for verbal nuance and the inimitably varied tones that distinguish this great American writer.