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Timothy J. Materer
Mizzou (Columbia, MO 65211-3020)
Dual Lives: Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill

A study of Elizabeth Bishop and James Merrill that will follow the parallel development of their careers through their poetry and many unpublished letters and writings. From the time they met in 1948, each thought of the other as showing the way to live a poet's life. Both distanced themselves from the literary establishment by living abroad, strove to establish stable romantic relationships but never married, and wrote autobiographical poems that are direct and personal without seeming too intimate or idiosyncratic. Bishop became for Merrill "someone my spirit could aspire to resemble." For her part, Bishop told Merrill that his poems "made me determined to write a lot of things I suppose I just lacked the courage to before." Both poets struggled with expressing their sexuality, using the metaphor of "inversion" to create their sense of what Bishop called "a world inverted." Bishop and Merrill discovered how to remain true to the complexity of experience and human identity while still, in Merrill's words about Bishop, creating a "purified, transparent 'I,' which readers may take as their virtual own."

[Grant products]

Project fields:
American Literature

Fellowships for University Teachers

Research Programs

$40,000 (approved)
$40,000 (awarded)

Grant period:
9/1/2004 – 8/31/2005