The Scholar & the Poet
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WHAT OF THAT LOST NOVEL Merrill left on the seat of a taxicab
while speeding to one of Yenser's weddings? (Yenser now is married
to poet Melissa Berton '89, with whom he has a 7-year-old daughter.)
never re-created the work a chronicle of his dabbling at
a Ouija board with his longtime companion David Jackson in
prose. Instead, he recast the material as an epic poem exploring
the afterlife. Hence was launched "Ephraim," the poem
that evolved into Merrill's 500-page masterpiece The Changing
Light at Sandover, which went on to pick up a National Book
Critics Circle Award.
such Merrill arcana comes in handy when carrying out the day-to-day
duties of the Merrill project. Merrill rarely changed his poems
after they first appeared in print, so his literary executors have
to reconcile fewer versions of his works than the executors of a
frequent reviser like, say, W.B. Yeats. But such work still presents
countless editorial quandaries.
Merrill's double acrostic love poem "Fleche d'Or," which
is composed of a single sentence. When originally published in his
1972 collection, Braving the Elements, it had a period at
its conclusion. But the period had disappeared by the time Merrill
repackaged the poem in two subsequent collections. So the executors
had to decide whether or not to use a period.
knew his reason for removing the period the poem's last words
are 'nothing ends' and we had to decide whether to reinstate
it in the Collected Poems," Yenser says. "We decided
not to do so."
so it went with the more than 500 poems featured in Collected
Poems. Of course, not all of the executors' contributions involve
such minutiae. Yenser and McClatchy have won accolades for unearthing
58 poems that had never been collected, some of them unpublished.
An example of the former is "Copied onto the Thing Itself,"
a humorous poem written on a gingko leaf that Yenser had the foresight
to save after Merrill mailed it to him in 1968.