Langdon Hammer's biography of James Merrill leads Andrew Epstein to discover some interesting links between the "consummate formalist" and the most avant-garde movement of the time.
Merrill was embedded in the New York School’s network of friendships and affiliations. For example, in a 1957 letter to John Ashbery, Schuyler discusses a friend being “bemused and thrilled to hear you have a mustache” and then adds “Jimmy Merrill described it as very French: otherwise he spoke very well of you, and made you sound as handsome as the dawn over Parc Buttes Chaumont or whatever it’s called.” Frank O’Hara’s letters casually mention “Jimmy and David” coming over for drinks, and refer to Merrill visiting Schuyler after one of his psychological breakdowns and offering his generous assistance.
Literary history likes to divide writers and place them in somewhat artificial categories and movements that often obscure the complex reality of affiliations, friendships, and influences. Fortunately, we now have Hammer’s biography to flesh out some of the details and remind us of the intriguing set of connections between Merrill and the poets of the New York School.