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This article is taken from PN Review 103, Volume 21 Number 5, May - June 1995.

Angelic Commuter: the Work of James Merrill Justin Quinn

For many years James Merrill commuted between America and Athens, making him, as he commented once, 'exotic at home and American abroad'. But for all these transatlantic travels his reputation as one of the masters of poetic craft writing in English at the moment has proved much more of a stay-at-home type. While he has been widely honoured in the United States (he is the winner of two National Book Awards, the Bollingen Prize in poetry, the Pullitzer Prize, and, on the back of his Selected Poems, is proclaimed by David Leavitt as the greatest American poet writing today), he is virtually unknown to the new generation of poets emerging at the moment outside the United States. An erratic publishing history on this side of the water over the last fifteen years ranges from Mirabell: Books of Number, the lengthy mid-section of his trilogy, The Changing Light at Sandover, to the Gallery Press's wonderful edition of the five-page poem 'Peter' in chap-book form, now a collector's item. Unlike some other American poets such as Ashbery and Clampitt whose latest collections have, over the last few years, been published on both sides of the ocean, Merrill's work has fallen into neglect. The OUP did not follow through and publish the full text of his trilogy, and 'Peter', while a tantalizing morsel held out to the Irish reading public, was hardly enough to consolidate a reputation. This state of affairs is surprising since his Selected Poems (1992) and The Changing Light ...


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