So for the past weeks I've been reading James Merrill's Collected through the random-spot method (and very casually) and now have started reading straight through. (Or, at least, started reading it broken up into books.)
I have read it quietly claimed that Merrill was the greatest US poet of the second half of the 20th – quietly claimed in that way that whispers "if you know what you're talking about, you few who do, you know this to be true." Yet I have no memory of ever having encountered him in a classroom. (I came to him through reading about the relationship between modernism and the occult, and so through The Changing Light at Sandover.)
It is an astounding body of work. And a body of work that in most every way rejects US poetry culture, so I am not surprised I hear little about him but in qualified statements (a.k.a. cultural criticism). It is also an astounding body of work in the sense that I have not been . . . . challenged by a book like this, perhaps ever. And I mean challenged in creative self-confidence, in the sense of "you think you are good; but, are you good enough to to stand beside this?" Curious how only certain authors can bring that particular challenge.
For challenged also in that he writes in a way I have always wanted to be able to write. So, a challenge of identity, that will have to be fended off. But fended off in the way that does not erase or sublate Merrill's work, but embraces it.