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James Merrill

Merrill, James (James Ingram Merrill), 1926–95, American poet, b. New York City. Born into wealth as the son of Charles Merrill, he studied at Amherst College (grad. 1947) and was free to live as he pleased and to devote much of his time to poetry. One of the most admired poets of his generation, he is noted for the technical virtuosity, elegant formality, refined lyricism, and witty urbanity of verse that, while always reserved, became more autobiographical, intimate, and colloquial over the years. His early volumes include First Poems (1951), Water Street (1962), Nights and Days (1966), The Fire Screen (1969), and Braving the Elements (1972). His most ambitious work was published in three parts (1976–80) and released in its entirety as The Changing Light at Sandover (1982). In it, Merrill (with his companion David Jackson) used a Ouija board to invoke the spirits (and the spirit) of his aesthetic forebears. Among later volumes are Late Settings (1985), The Inner Room (1988), and A Scattering of Salts (1995). His lyrics are gathered in James Merrill: Collected Poems (2001). Merrill won every major literary award for poetry, including the Pulitzer and Bollingen prizes and two National Book Awards. He also wrote plays, e.g., The Immortal Husband (1955); novels, e.g., The Seraglio (1957); and essays, e.g., Recitative (1986).

See his memoir, A Different Person (1993); his Collected Novels and Plays (2002), Collected Prose (2004), and Selected Poems (2008), ed. by J. D. McClatchy and S. Yenser; R. Labrie, James Merrill (1982), J. Moffett, James Merrill: An Introduction (1984), S. Yenser, The Consuming Myth: The Work of James Merrill (1986); M. Blasing, Politics and Form in Postmodern Poetry: O'Hara, Bishop, Ashbery, and Merrill (1995); A. Lurie, Familiar Spirits: A Memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson (2001).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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