This website was born of an independent study semester at Montana State University Bozeman; but hopefully it extends, eventually, beyond those confines. Its structure is that of a continued, recorded exploration—four people who love poetry exploring James Merrill’s oeuvre. Think of it as a sort of shrine-cum-archaeological dig-cum-ship’s log. If we’ve done our job, it will be a useful and entertaining resource to those who want to learn more about Merrill. Enjoy.
Zach Bowen: I have been writing poetry for as long as I can remember, starting in first grade when I wrote a series of rhyming couplets about the hippopotamus. Poetry has continued to be a proliferating and driving force throughout my life, inspiring me to become a founding member of The Bozeman Poetry Collective, and a student of literature at Montana State University. My fascination with James Merrill began with his poem “The Octopus,” in which the form of the poem embodies its subject in ways that are at once charming and unsettling. I’ve come to understand Merrill’s poetry as a sort of conduit for forgotten sorcery; a magic that I have aspired to learn how to cast ever since.
Keegan Grady: I was born and raised in Belgrade, Montana, and was introduced to poetry by my father’s beaten copy of Seamus Heaney’s Seeing Things. Poetry became a fascination, which by various byways led me to Montana State University’s departments of English and (non-theological) Religious Studies. My introduction to Merrill came two years ago, in a poetry course taught by Dr. Leubner—we read “Self-Portrait in a Tyvek™ Windbreaker,” and I was hooked. What fascinates me about Merrill—and why I believe his poetry is so important—is his preoccupation with surface, with masks and mirrors and illusion, not in some high fantastical sense, but in regards to the masks we use in everyday life, the mirrored surfaces we don that show not us, but the world reflected back on itself.
Matthew Hodgson: I was always under the impression that I would be a medical doctor someday. That was, until I summoned the courage to choose my passion over what I believed to be a familial obligation. English rhetoric and composition is my concentration in undergraduate studies, but my interests lie more with Irish literature, specifically James Joyce, and Twentieth-century poetry, including the work of Derek Walcott, Elizabeth Bishop, and, of course, James Merrill. I first encountered Merrill in the spring of 2018 while studying “Lost in Translation.” Since then, Divine Comedies has held a place in my top three poetry collections with Bishop’s Geography III and Walcott’s The Star-Apple Kingdom. My interest in poetry inspired me to start a club of poets on campus known as the “Poetic Society,” which works closely with The Bozeman Poetry Collective and creates an environment for poets to appreciate and celebrate the craft of writing poetry.
Ben Leubner: I’ve been living and teaching in Bozeman for ten years now, having received my PhD in English from Northeastern University in 2009. My publications on Merrill up to this point include an article on Merrill and Rilke in Religion and the Arts (“Commanding Angels”: 2015), a review essay on Langdon Hammer’s biography of Merrill in Twentieth-Century Literature (2015), and a chapter on Merrill and Elizabeth Bishop in the forthcoming Reading Elizabeth Bishop: An Edinburgh Reader (June 1, 2019). My work on literature from the 19th century to the present has also appeared in Review 31, 3:AM, The Southwest Review, Letterature d’America, and elsewhere. My own creative nonfiction can be found at ben’s beans – whimandworry. I first discovered Merrill’s work while studying under Dr. Guy Rotella at Northeastern. And this has been a problem ever since.