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UCLA Magazine Fall 2002
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Fall 2002
The Scholar & the Poet
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Although the gingko's older far
Than most trees here below
This leaf is Art
Nouveau

"Merrill — usually so fortunate in his friends — has been well-served by his executors and editors," the Los Angeles Times said in naming the 888-page behemoth one of the best books of poetry in 2001. For the 670-page Collected Novels and Plays, Yenser and McClatchy uncovered The Birthday, a short, unpublished play that Merrill wrote as a college student at Amherst. The executors' stamp will be even more prominent on Merrill's Selected Letters, tentatively slated as the project's final volume. Yenser and McClatchy have solicited letters from everyone in Merrill's voluminous address book. They also ran ads seeking letters. One of the largest groups will come from Yenser's own collection, which fills six large filing cabinets. From the tens of thousands of letters so far collected, the executors will have to choose fewer than 1,000.

"This is a great chore because Merrill was one of the last great letter writers," Yenser says.

Not that he is complaining. Yenser insists the project "repays me every inch of the way."

"When I'm reading Merrill again and thinking about what I'll write, he is helping me think about new things to do, whether it's in my own poems or essays," he says. "It's a network, a web of relations."

Besides, it's the least he can do for a friend.

"MERRILL FELT STEPHEN KNEW MERRILL'S OWN WORK BETTER THAN MERRILL DID. HE WAS SO CLOSELY ATTUNED TO THE INS AND OUTS OF MERRILL'S IMAGINATION. MERRILL SENSED IT FROM THE BEGINNING. STEPHEN WAS JAMES MERRILL'S IDEAL READER."

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