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Dear Premises: James Merrill and the Domestic Impulse


Dear Premises is an unusual close personal look at the poet James Merrill through his 20 years of interactions and correspondence with a family with whom he had a long intimate relationship.

Part I includes an analysis of traditional artistic and intellectual elements that can be traced through Merrill’s early works in poetry, fiction, and drama with an emphasis on influential sources in Continental and American literature. His verbal skill with strict metrical forms, subtle illusions, and elaborate word play unites with his own experiments in prose, two works of drama and two of fiction, to produce the poet’s growing achievements in maturity of dialog, narrative sequence and, characterization. The unity of focus in all his early work exhibits a passionate thematic devotion to the artistic and personal dilemma of his social position as it emerges into the freer, looser landscape of modern life. Part II offers five special examples of Merrill’s casual, gentle, and generous behavior in a domestic setting of some chaos and complication. The letters, which cover years between 1974 and 1995, permit the reader to follow both Merrill and the family through their increasing intimacy in a shared personal universe and are included as a separate media attachment. Part III synthesizes these personal and idiosyncratic and epistolary occasions into a broad view of the poet James Merrill as an important cultural icon for redemptive power of the human experience and of love.

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