“A Whole World: Letters from James Merrill” edited by Langdon Hammer— Selected Letters

Merrill, James. “A Whole World: Letters from James Merrill”, edited by Langdon Hammer, Knopf, 2021.

Selected Letters

Amos Lassen

The selected correspondence of the brilliant poet, James Merrill, one of the twentieth century’s last great letter writersandone of the foremost American poets of the later twentieth century. He was the winner of two National Book Awards, the Bollingen Prize, the Pulitzer Prize, and the first Bobbit Prize from the Library of Congress. He published eleven volumes of poems, in addition to the trilogy that makes up The Changing Light at Sandover, as well as two plays, two novels, a collection of essays and interviews, and a memoir. He was a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

James Merrill did not keep a journal and said that  his letters “have got to bear all the burden.” He was a vivacious correspondent who wrote eagerly and often to family and lifelong friends, American and Greek lovers, confidants in literature and art about everything that mattered. He wrote about “aesthetics, opera and painting, housekeeping and cooking, the comedy of social life, the mysteries of the Ouija board and the spirit world, and psychological and moral dilemmas”. His personal nemesis was the ambivalence he lived with and it became “the very stuff of my art”.

Merrill’s letters are his daily chronicle of love and loss and they are self-critical, full of gossip, and filled with irony and detail. We see the voice of the poet through his letters.

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