Merrill, James

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, metric sophistication, 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 his 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, two National Book Awards, and a National Book Critics Circle Award. He also wrote plays, e.g., The Immortal Husband (1955); novels, e.g., The Seraglio (1957); and essays, e.g., Recitative (1986).

See his Collected Novels and Plays (2002), Collected Prose (2004), and Selected Poems (2008), ed. by J. D. McClatchy and S. Yenser; his memoir, A Different Person (1993); A. Lurie, Familiar Spirits: A Memoir of James Merrill and David Jackson (2001); biography by L. Hammer (2015); R. Labrie, James Merrill (1982), J. Moffett, James Merrill: An Introduction (1984), S. Yenser, The Consuming Myth (1986), and M. Blasing, Politics and Form in Postmodern Poetry (1995).

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