Saturday, September 26, 2009

Please Buy and Read Schneiderman's article on James Merrill in the September/October 2009 issue of "The American Poetry Review"

[Look at the end of the post for a brief description of James Merrill's landmark "The Changing Light at Sandover."]

I never thought that I'd be using the phrase "fun and educational" as the most sincere form of praise. But I am now. Jason
Schneiderman's article entitled "Notes on Not Writing: Revising The Changing Light at Sandover" no doubt is one of the best things I've read in the last year.

I would buy any magazine which has an article by Schneiderman. Or Joel Brouwer (who is from all accounts happily married to a woman). I look forward to all their critical pieces.

Schneiderman's article provides a historical context to James Merrill's books, a critical analysis, inclusion of theory and philosophy, and autobiographical experience. This is exemplary creative non-fiction.

I don't know Schneiderman, but I would ask him to autograph this article. It made me happy. All for different reasons, I know I'll feel a same sort of giddiness when Matthew Hittinger and Eduardo Corral and Tony Leuzzi have their books published.

Here's a choice quotation from the article:

"Persuasion and command are never as far apart as we might like to think. But whatever linguistic and logical knots this line of thinking may lead to, at the center of the paradox is Merrill, whose book represents a Herculean effort as well as a simple secretarial task."


"In the interview Merill maintains that he did progressively less shaping of the text as the work progressed: the voices simply came straight off the [Ouija] board in verse by the end. So if these transcripts are sheer reportage, how much has Merrill actually written? Is one answer to the question of how to write, to not write at all?"

And even great one-liners: "My own belief is that love cuts out the bottom 30% or so of human suffering..."


To my students, I'll confess; I sometimes use Wikipedia, too. Here's what Wikipedia says about James Merrill and his poetic project. In case, you didn't know. The description is as good as anything as I'd summarize for you:

"With his partner David Jackson, Merrill spent more than 20 years transcribing supernaturalcommunications during séances using a ouija board. In 1976, Merrill published his first ouija board narrative cycle, with a poem for each of the letters A through Z, calling it The Book of Ephraim. (The Book of Ephraim appeared as part of the 1976 collection Divine Comedies, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1977.)"

So this was the end result:

"The Changing Light at Sandover is a 560-page epic poem by James Merrill (1926–1995). Sometimes described as a postmodern apocalyptic epic, the poem was published in three separate installments between 1976 and 1980, and in its entirety in 1982."


  1. I have become enamoured of the idea of writing poetry with a ouija board or through automatic writing. What spirit would you ask? What spirits do you think would come?

  2. I had deferred reading this article because I was just plain tired when it arrived--glad you reminded me. I love Merrill and that wacked out project of his.

  3. I think that you should ask James Merrill for guidance in writing poems.