Let’s talk about James Merrill
James Merrill died in Tucson. Tucson is a city where men walk around with Rottweilers and wheelbarrows. Sometimes inside the wheelbarrow will rest a console television. These men do not wear shirts.
Some writers were afraid of James Merrill. It’s like that time Dick Cavett interviewed Marlon Brando. (Go to 5:45 for some inspiring tension) Cavett was shaking. He was addled and rattled. He was overwhelmed by the Hugeness of this Thing, Brando.
Factoid: People think Calvin Cordozar Broadus, Jr. is all that, but James Merrill was the first to sing, “Come dusk lime juice and gin.”
Remember to remember!
James Merrill’s most famous quote is obviously, “Life is fiction in disguise.” I’m trying to decide if John Gardner would approve. Oh, fuck Gardner, man. I just realized Hemingway is always talking about how he doesn’t like to talk about writing, and even saying that is talking about writing and anyway Hemingway actually wrote and talked about writing all of the time. But I digress. Better quotes from Merrill would be, “I’ve watered the geraniums, the pot of basil + the pot of pot” or “If nobody ever wrote a book, do you imagine it would be possible to catch up?”
Then I addressed to a closed door a little speech about how the Great Ideas, far from being the achievement of men of genius (or look what happens when they are—Nietzsche + Hitler, Einstein + Hiroshima), are the work of thousands of anonymous generations, and take the form of those brain-coral reefs, slow myths + taboos, which keep the shark from the shallows our children swim in, and now if you don’t mind I have taken a pill and must try to get some sleep.
One time James Merrill made a concrete poem in the shape of a Christmas tree. I find concrete poetry as sort of airbrush T-shirt level of entertainment.
Champagne. Mythology. Technical mastery. Memory. Atomic science. The big bang and black holes. Quatrains. Environmental degradation. Key West. AIDS. Neckties. Similes. Flashlights. Elizabeth Bishop. Small mirrors. The Piano. Good outdoor lighting (example, Peru). Waving through windows at people. O’Keeffe paintings. Dogs. A well-considered title.
I don’t like titles that applaud the author’s seriousness or whatever, titles like “Necessities of Life” or even, forgive me, “Responsibilities.”
Sometimes, while rereading Changing Light at Sandover, the irony keeps me at a distance, but then again it might just be something I ate.
Factoid: You can say what you want about Dick Cavett, but in 1969 Jefferson Airplane sang on his show and it was the first time the word “fuck” was uttered on live television.
We’re going to spend a lot of our life alone in rooms.