THE CONSUMING MYTH: The Works of James Merrill by Stephen Yenser

THE CONSUMING MYTH: The Works of James Merrill

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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.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1987
Publisher: Harvard Univ. Press