James Merrill is now widely recognized as one of the essential poets of our time, one of those whose achievement will define postwar American literature. "The Consuming Myth" is a discerning account of his work that will well serve amateur and initiate alike. Yenser ranges over all of Merrill's writing to date, from a precocious book printed when its author was fifteen to his most recent publication, a verse play. He writes about both of the poet's novels and pays particular attention to the epic poem "The Changing Light at Santkver" His close readings shed light on Merrill's boldly and subtly original techniques, his kinship with Mallarme, Proust, Yeats, Stevens, and others, and the network of connections among his diverse undertakings.Yenser suggests that Merrill's special power springs in part from transactions between evidently opposing perceptions. On the one hand as the result of some poetic version of what physicists call pair production whatever Merrill looks at hard yields its contraries. All about him, and within him too, he discovers duality and division. On the other hand, he is profoundly aware of the interconnectedness of things, whether they be his life and his art (which we might think of as aspects of his work), or humanity and nature, or good and evil. It is out of quarrels with ourselves that we make poetry, Yeats observed; and it is in striving to accommodate intuitions of both difference and identity that Merrill has fashioned his distinctive manner."
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(235mm x 155mm x 32mm)
Harvard University Press
Publisher: Harvard University Press
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US Kirkus Review »
An exceedingly clear explication of a complex poet. Yenser is a sensitive writer whose subject happens to be literary criticism. Even those who avoid this genre can read his book painlessly. Yenser makes a quiet, methodical effort to go through the many books that have inspired this erudite poet. The result is a dense, closely reasoned text that should be helpful to anyone interested in the subject. Some rate Merrill as America's finest poet. Others are bewildered by his magnum opus, longer than Dante's Divine Comedy, based on material told him through the Ouija board. Whatever one's final estimation, it is certain that Merrill, like some countries, deserves a cultural guide devoted to himself. And Yenser's book ably serves as a sort of Baedeker to the land of Merrill, where jokes about W.H. Auden's private life are mixed with arcane mythological figures, some pure inventions of Merrill, others From the Greek. Following Yenser's arguments about the often densely cryptic longer poems, the reader may feel as if he or she is deciphering Sumerian hieroglyphics, rather than modern American poetry, so thick are the cross-cultural references. Fortunately, not all of Merrill is this difficult to read. Some is simple, and a lot is fun. Yenser's book is up-to-the-minute, including remarks on the poet's prematurely titled Late Settings. An exceedingly spry sexagenarian, Merrill retains a youthful spirit of playfulness in his writing that promises much more fodder for fine commentators like Yenser. An accessible and cleareyed explanation of modern poetry. Essential to collections of modern literature. Includes a useful bibliography. (Kirkus Reviews)
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Author Biography - Stephen Yenser
Stephen Yenser is Professor of English at the University of California, Los Angeles. He is the author of Circle to Circle: The Poetry of Robert Lowell and Clos Camardon, a chapbook of poems.