Discoveries: Christopher Merrill

December 10, 2011   •   By Susan Salter Reynolds

CHRISTOPHER MERRILL HAS ALWAYS believed in quests. Over many years and many books he has traveled out, confronting fear, admiring the courage and conviction of others, standing on the shoulders of giants (like Saint-John Perse) to peer into the future. Without knowing it, he has followed a path in his work that was once common for poets before they turned inward; transforming terror into beauty. Post-9/11, Merrill wanted to uncover an “alternative reading on the Age of Terror.” “This, then, is a book composed in the key of terror,” he writes. “Our lives are shaped by ceremonies, expeditions and wars, the origins of which are rooted at least partly in fear.” Out he goes, to Malaysia, China, and the Middle East. The book ends on a trip to Lebanon. Merrill was stopped by a furious soldier in Qana, on a Hezbollah infiltration trail, a military zone. “Do you have any children?” the soldier asked him. “I cannot say why, but I was certain that my fate depended upon my answer. ‘Two daughters,’ I said. ‘Six and eleven. I would really like to see them again.’”