James Merrill

Comments & Themes

  • Collagism, the ouija board, the i-ching, randomizing computer software... where is the poet in 20th century poetry of this sort?

  • Do you share the opinion that Merrill's early poetry is little more than a prettified exercise in otherwise empty aestheticism?

  • Frank O'Hara and James Merrill served in the army during WWII. How different is their poetry from that of soldier-poets of WWI? And from each other's?

  • From decadent, Greek-inspired scenarios and themes to "Self-Portrait in TYVEK(TM) Windbreaker": is that a sign of versatility or simply disorientation?

  • From pretentiously old-fashioned to pleasantly old-fashioned, and from there to a mature casualness. Is casualness a sign of maturity in a century where the pressure to enter the literary Olympus was often too much for many poets? Use examples from Merrill and others.

  • Defend the case for "Lost in Translation" as a masterpiece of 20th century poetry.

  • Merrill befriended Elizabeth Bishop, and their lives--except of course for his money--show remarkable similarities. Do you see in their poetries affinities other than personal?

  • Given his impressive credentials (in terms of prizes et al.) if he is not better known it is exclusively because the 20th century is not particularly kind towards this sort of virtuosity. Discuss.