— Profile by Kinley Dozier, Managing Editor for Elan Literary Magazine
After getting the chance to be an audience to Billy Merrell at a previous Elan Alumni reading as well as seeing him at Writer’s Fest in 2016, I’m excited to see what he brings to the table at this year’s Writer’s Fest. Reading through his poems have been an emotional experience, but one that I’ve enjoyed greatly.
It takes a level of vulnerability and acceptance towards opening up to be able to write intimately and personally. This is something that took me three years at Douglas Anderson to finally do, but it was a freeing feeling once I finally opened up. I got the same feeling when reading Billy Merrell’s “Canon,” a poem I felt I had some secret connection to through my existence as a writer, as someone who looks onto the work of others in order to give myself the ability and the might to write on my own. I admire the way Merrell not only brings this connection into the piece but makes it specifically personal to himself through the listing of specific poets.
Another admirable aspect of the poem is its beginning, the very conversational tone it takes on from the start. I think much of this comes with the topic of the poem and how open it is to different types of readers to connect. The topic of the poem, self-acceptance, makes the conversational tone seem intimate. There’s an emotional understanding between speaker and reader.
I really enjoy reading poems saturated with emotions and experienced, that feel very personal to the writer or the speaker themselves. That’s what it was like when reading “Cannon,” a saturation. I felt discomforted in the best way possible.
Another powerful poem by Merrell is “Folding Sheets,” from his collection Talking in the Dark. This poem describes the moment between a mother and son in which they carry out an everyday action like holding sheets together, but the closeness that comes with doing so. I’ve recently written a lot of poems concerning the relationship I have with my own parents, so this one caught my attention.
This poem focuses specifically on a single moment. It’s layered with many different images, the same object and action shown in different ways, symbolizing different things. I love that Merrell does this, that he makes this moment so vivid that I picture myself there. One line that stuck out to me the most is “And then the air underneath is undone/like hands just after a prayer.” This line, beautifully unique, felt like a breath of air. This moment feels very traditional and devotional, the love between a mother and her son, how much can be appreciated through such a simple thing.
Knowing that Billy Merrell comes from Douglas Anderson, that he returns to share the art he has continued to produce with much vigor and talent, is inspiring. It strikes down the fear of losing this passion after leaving a sanctuary such as DA. I look forward to being immersed in the art with all the writers next month.