Winter 1997 • Vol. XIX No. 1 Nonfiction |

“We Both Knew This Place”: Reflections on the Art of James Merrill

This past April, teaching some poems of Elizabeth Bishop in my American Poetry course at Rutgers, I went back to the chapter on Bishop in David Kalstone's Five Temperaments. The charm and perspicacity of Kalstone's writing quickly drew me into rereading the rest of the book as well, particularly the chapter on James Merrill. Merrill's death only two months earlier resonated so deeply that the spring semester came to feel to me like an extended course in Merrill's oeuvre, though I was never sure whether it was a course I was taking or one I was giving. Merrill and Kalstone were close friends for many years. Kalstone wrote about Merrill in Five Temperaments and elsewhere; I still remember my pleasure in reading his spirited response to an inadequate review of Divine Comedies in 1976. Merrill, for his part, wrote the Afterword to Becoming a Poet, Kalstone's last book. Sadly, since his illness with AIDS and death in June 1986 prevented Kalstone from finishing it, Becoming a Poet, a

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