James Merrill


Lithograph 23" x 32"
printed by Maurice Sanchez

India Ink & Crayon 10" x 14" 
Study for McKane Falls


Monotype & India Ink 4' x 36"


My first job out of college was working in the art department of the Boston Athenaeum, a private library on Beacon Hill. I wanted to initiate a poetry series, and nervously I approached the director, Rodney Armstrong. He listened politely and asked me whom I had in mind? I said I’d like the first poet to be James Merrill. After a long pause, Rodney said, “You mean Jimmy Merrill, the poet, my classmate? Of course we can!” I was invited to the spring dinner after James’ reading, asparagus and shad roe. James invited me to visit Stonington, Connecticut. 

Our first collaboration used a portion of his poem “McKane’s Falls,” and it was a straight ahead lithograph, as well as the first time I worked with Maurice Sanchez at the Derriere L’Etoile Studio. James asked could his words be printed in red and run up the waterfall, like salmon? Why not? I used black and white, yin and yang, as the motif to create the falls and water. I hid a stylized New England gravestone head inside the pour of water in the middle section. I felt the yin and yang and the stylized hidden head captured something of James’ personality. Maurice exhibited a lot of restraint watching me gouge my lines into the soft limestone litho stone. I had not realized a light touch was all I needed, but he approved the outcome.

Our second collaboration is a one-of-a-kind. We were talking metaphysics and he said why not use something from “Mirabell”? He chose “whom I had in mind.” He wrote the lines into the wet ink, and when printed, they appeared backwards…by the third print, he wrote the lines in his hand so you can read them…the whole series progresses from black to white, and from backwards to forward, in the first dark impression the words and image are white and in the last they are black, mirroring the poem’s essence. 

James gave me the image explaining: MAN…and he drew a large X on a napkin to represent man, stands on the EARTH, and he drew the curved line under the X to represent the earth, and WHAT IS ABOVE IS BELOW and he drew another X under the first, under the earth. He concluded saying, what man holds in his hands is TIME, and he drew the line across the upper section of the two X’s. These three prints are one of the most successful collaborations I’ve created. They are a perfect lesson in the process of monotype. 

 One afternoon in Stonington we walked up Water Street to collect a freshly baked peach pie. On the way back, James held it in front of himself like an offering, a small breeze coming off the water wafting the pie’s scent over us, as if it were a blessing. What I loved about James, and many of the poets I’ve collaborated with, is their ability to turn the most ordinary thing into a metaphor, into something special, a journey.

<< click here to return to The Written Image