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This review is taken from PN Review 105, Volume 22 Number 1, September - October 1995.

THE NINTH LIFE JAMES MERRILL, A Scattering oj Salts (New York: Alfred A. Knopf) $20
JAMES MERRILL, Self-Portrait in Tyvek Windbreaker (Dublin: Dedalus) IR£4.95

Gems, salts, and various crystals are scattered through the latest and last book by James Merrill who died at the age of sixty eight on 6 February of this year. One gem of sorts ls a pearl 'at home in the hollow/Of his mother's throat: the real, deepwater thing'. Then there are the gemlike projects that keep forming inside the mine of a relationship. Their glittering facets echo in the same poem with the ght concentrates sweated out by two mountain-climbers. In turn these echo with a salt of the earth of the book's last poem, as well as with the bath-salts scattered from the heavens to create clouds in 'A Downward Look'.

Under what pressures, Merrill asks, are these gems, crystals and salts formed? The 96 pages of A Scattering of Salts follow the force lines of Nature, through Alps and human emotions, in an attempt to account for them. On their trail he finds himself in a 'rehab' ranch in Arizona; back in Athens revisiting the house where he wrote most of his long poem, on an 'Overdue Pilgrimage to Nova Scotia' to see the village of his friend Elizabeth Bishop.

In the book's first part, a volcano is the place where the force lines of the personal meet the geological. 'Volcanic Holiday' finds Merrill and his partner in a helicopter that shakes like a fist as it 'hovers above the churning/Cauldron of red lead in what a passion!' The poem is a ...

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