Merton and Laughlin

The correspondence of James Laughlin with several of the poets he published  at New Directions books has been issued in several volumes. I’ve been spending time with the Thomas Merton collection. As a Merton fan, I already knew the series of big volumes of his letters (he maintained an immense correspondence), but the Laughlin/Merton volume is especially interesting because, unlike those anthologies, this one includes both sides of the conversation. Laughlin  really believed in Merton as a poet – a bit surprising given the fact that Merton is not at all on the same level as other poets Laughlin published (Williams, Rexroth, Levertov, etc.). It is clear from the letters that his friendship with Merton was spiritually nourishing for Laughlin, just as Merton relied on Laughlin for reading material and as a lifeline to the world of poetry. New Directions also became the place where some of Merton’s most interesting writing appeared (New Seeds of Contemplation, Raids on the Unspeakable, Zen and the Birds of Appetite, and quite a bit more.) The collection is a very readable document of an unusual, touching literary friendship.

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