Collected Prose

James Merrill, Author Knopf Publishing Group $40 (752p) ISBN 978-0-375-41136-6
""There are after all things to be said for prose ... Yet I persist in seeing it as a mildly nightmarish medium, to which there is no end."" Best known for the poetic trilogy he wrote with the guidance of an Ouija board, James Merrill believed that prose lacked the music of poetry. Nonetheless, his own letters and essays are an absolute pleasure--by turns gossipy, wise, pithy, lyrical and amusing. For this gracefully arranged volume, fellow poets McClatchy and Yenser sifted through Merrill's prodigious output and compiled his final word on just about everything: Elizabeth Bishop, Kyoto, garlic soup, first loves, the art of poetry, the afterlife. At times, the sheer size of the volume is overwhelming, but dipping in and out of it can feel as pleasant as having a drink with the man himself--his tone is so often informal and intimate. Only in the""Interviews"" section does the volume become somewhat repetitive, and even there, contributions by Helen Vendler and McClatchy are outstanding; rather than being merely interrogatory, their interviews flow easily into natural conversation. (The one disappointing stretch is a group of three stories, which are not as deft as Merrill's nonfiction.) McClatchy and Yenser sought out unpublished or obscurely published pieces for this vast collection, making it an especially useful resource for academics and Merrill fans. Whatever the topic, Merrill fixes it with his wry and level gaze and his sly, precise words. In the end, it seems his prose is as fine as his poetry. Photos.
Reviewed on: 10/25/2004
Release date: 10/01/2004
Genre: Nonfiction
Ebook - 752 pages - 978-0-307-42531-7
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