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Fall 2002
The Scholar & the Poet
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AND 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.)


Merrill

Merrill 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.

Knowing 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.

Take 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.

"I 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."

And 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 Yenser and McClatchy have won accolades for unearthing 58 poems that had never been collected, some of them unpublished.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.

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