The Scholar & the Poet
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AND MERRILL GREW UP in very different worlds. James Ingram Merrill
was born in 1926 in New York City and grew up wealthy and privileged
in Manhattan and Southampton, the son of Charles Merrill, co-founder
of the Merrill Lynch brokerage firm, and Helen Ingram Merrill, who
published a small newspaper. Yenser was born in 1941 in Wichita,
Kansas, the elder son of an aircraft-industry purchasing agent and
a nurse who liked to write and occasionally published her poems
in such magazines as Ladies' Home Journal. By the age of 8, Merrill
already was writing poems, and while in prep school at age 16 his
father privately published a book of his work. By the time Yenser
was a teenager, he had been arrested several times and was thrown
out of school for fighting.
was a punk," he admits.
accident in his sophomore summer changed that.
best friend was home on leave from the Navy, and he and I and three
other guys got drunk at a nightclub, went home to get a gun with
some crazy idea of confronting the bouncer, and on the way had a
wreck that killed two of the other passengers," he says. The
friend who had been at the wheel was charged with negligent homicide
and went to jail. Yenser was badly hurt in the crash and spent months
in traction and a body cast.
auto accident and its immediate aftermath constituted the most intense
and self-contained period in my life to that point," he recalls.
"Afterward, I started to take everything more seriously
school, reading, writing."
explores the experience in his poem "Intensive Care,"
which appears in The Fire in All Things:
Suspicious noses, in spite
Of Demerol, in spite of tranquillizers,
Pulleys and wires, they made him almost nightly
(God love their never-say-die attitude)
See how it could be even worse,
The accident that he kept coming through.