Archive for the ‘Poet Portraits’ Category

From time to time I would like to introduce you to poets that may have escaped your radar, James Merrill is one of those poets.

Poet James Merrill

from James Merrill, “Object Lessons” (a review of two books by Franis Ponge in the New York Review of Books in 1972). rep. in J. D. McClatchy, Recitative: Prose by James Merrill (North Point: San Francisco, 1986), 111-112.

A pity about that lowest former of humor. It is suffered, by and large, with groans of aversion, as though one had done an unseemly thing in adult society, like slipping a hand up the hostess’s dress. Indeed, the punster has touched, and knows it if only for being so promptly shamed, upon a secret, fecund place in language herself. The pun’s objet trouvé aspect cheapens it further – why? A Freudian slip is taken seriously: it betrays its maker’s hidden wish. The pun (or the rhyme, for that matter) “merely” betrays the hidden wish of words.

It betrays also a historical dilemma. If World War I snapped, as we hear tell, the threads of civilization except where it continued briefly to baste the memories of men like Valéry and Joyce, the next generation’s problem was to create works whose resonance lasted more than a season. A culture without Greek or Latin or Anglo-Saxon goes off the gold standard. How to draw upon the treasure?

At once representing and parodying our vital wealth, the lightweight crackle of wordplay would retain no little transactional power in the right hands. But was it – had the gold itself been – moral? Didn’t all that smack of ill-gotten gains? Even today, how many poets choose the holy poverty of some secondhand diction, pure dull content in translation from a never-to-be-known original. “There is no wing like meaning,” said Stevens. Two are needed to get off the ground.

Learn More About James Merrill here.


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