Nebraska Center for Writers

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About Constance Merritt


A Protocol for Touch
Copyright © 2000
by Constance Merritt
University of North Texas Press
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Constance Merritt is a poet to defeat categories, to oppose "the tyranny of names" with a poetry that sets its own terms of encounter, its "protocols of touch" — tender and austere, formal and intimate at once. Hers is a voice with many musics, sufficiently rich, nuanced and various to express, maintain poise and wrest meaning from the powerful cross-currents in which the heart is torn. I have seldom seen intelligence equal to such a scorching degree of intensity, or mastery of form so equal to passion's contradictory occasions. Merritt's prosodic range is prodigious — she moves in poetic forms as naturally as a body moves in its skin, even as her lines ring with the cadenced authority of a gifted and schooled ear. Here, in her words, the iambic ground bass is in its vital questioning mode: "The heart's insistent undersong: how live? // how live? How live?" This poetry serves no lesser necessity than to ask that. — Eleanor Wilner

Constance Merritt employs a stately blank verse to explore racism, romantic love, health/disability, and the body politic. This first book includes accomplished sonnets, sestinas, and villanelles tuned to the contemporary ear and eye. ... and troubles our notions about what we "view" by complicating notions of sight and visibility. — Robin Becker

Constance Merritt has the unmistakable great range of a poet for whom the lyric is not a way of presenting the self but a way of entering the world. When we read her poems, we can hear the realms of interiority; the paradoxes of sight and sightlessness; a pained but clear knowledge (in both body and mind) of human failure and accomplishment, cruelty and love; a love of play and wit; the feminine; and a pondering of last things. — Reginald Gibbons

Merritt's debut collection, winner of the Vassar Miller Prize, opens like a flower in time-lapse photography — each curving line a slow, eloquent disclosure. The music of her words, their melody, harmony, and rhythm, is complex and involving. The beauty of her imagery, which gives equal weight to the senses of touch, taste, smell, sound, and sight, is both as new and as familiar as dawn. And her unexpected leaps of thought, feeling, and faith are exhilarating. Merritt expertly parses loneliness and memories of torqued family alignments and elusive love, but she also writes resonant and rebellious responses to scripture and other forms of authority. An African American, Merritt is also blind, and questions of color and hierarchy come into play often in her poems, which are powered by the tension between classical forms and unconventional points of view. Merritt explores many states of being, both external and internal, and gives voice to personae both timeless and contemporary in poetry that combines the strength of steel and the suppleness of silk. — Booklist

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