Self-Portrait with DogwoodBeloved poet and essayist Christopher Merrill's personal tale of life and tree limb
In the course of researching dogwood trees, beloved poet and essayist Christopher Merrill realized that a number of formative moments in his life had some connection to the tree namedaccording to one writerbecause its fruit was not fit for a dog. As he approached his sixtieth birthday, Merrill began to ...
Dogwoods have never been far from Merrill’s view at significant moments throughout his life, helping to shape his understanding of place in the great chain of being; entwined in his experience is the conviction that our relationship to the natural world is central to our walk in the sun. The feeling of a connection to nature has become more acute as his life has taken him to distant corners of the earth, often to war zones where he has witnessed not only humankind’s propensity for violence and evil but also the enduring power of connections that can be forged across languages, borders, and politics. Dogwoods teach us persistence humility and wonder.
Self-Portrait with Dogwood is no ordinary memoir, but rather the work of a traveler who has crisscrossed the country and the globe in search of ways to make sense of his time here. Merrill provides new ways of thinking about personal history, the environment, politics, faith, and the power of the written word. In his descriptions of places far and near, many outside of the average American’s purviewa besieged city in Bosnia, a hidden path in a Taiwanese park, Tolstoy’s country house in Russia, a castle in Slovakia, a blossoming dogwood at daybreak in Seattlethe reader’s understanding of the world will flourish as well.
"A memoir for lovers of writing and reading." — Kirkus Reviews
“His memoir, written as he was nearing his sixtieth year, traces the delicate, interactive web of creation that links humans and nature, illuminating how vital each small being, each plant, each person is to the whole. In travels across the globe, even to war zones where scenes of the depth of man’s depravity were seared into his soul, Merrill also found the wonder of humanity’s ability to love, to heal, and to connect; the dogwood serves both as a metaphor for this and, in its decline, as an “an augur of our fate” should we fail to honor these connections.”— Foreword Reviews
“An arboreal memoir, an autobiographical dendrology: Merrill, like the dogwood seeds and seedlings, roams the planet, appearing or pausing at unexpected moments in history. The migrant trees sink their roots in various foreign soils; the man, though wandering—even in zones of war—remains rooted in the humus of poetry.” — Eliot Weinberger
“Christopher Merrill is a national treasure, both as a writer and a global warrior for literature and witness. In a fine career of making exquisite books, Self-Portrait with Dogwood might be his most moving. Beauty rises from every page. Going on my short list of favorite books—I will refer to it and teach it for the rest of my life, like I do with Bashō and Hanshan. A quiet classic.” — Luis Alberto Urrea
“How wise of the U.S. State Department to send Christopher Merrill around the globe as a poet-ambassador. I can’t imagine anyone better equipped to represent us to a suffering and turbulent world. His attentive ear and eye, his keen mind, his compassionate heart, his courage and eloquence are all richly displayed in this engrossing book. The stories he tells here—about woods and waters, poetry and soccer, about literary heroes, an ailing daughter, and a dying friend—are suffused by Merrill’s devotion to mercy and beauty, and by his fascination with the ineffable power we call nature.” — Scott Russell Sanders, author of Divine Animal
“Christopher Merrill speaks to the essential and too often buried part of us that intuits the relatedness of all things (human beings and nature, love and war, shame and desire) and investigates the way those intersections urge some of us toward metaphor, toward a life dedicated to the making of art. Self-Portrait with Dogwood makes a case for a new type of memoir in which the self—rather than being spotlighted—is but one slender thread in an intricate weave that reaches across species, centuries, and time zones. This is an elegant, intelligent, deeply compelling, and necessary book.” — Pam Houston, author of Contents May Have Shifted
“How do we attach meaning to human existence? Merrill’s memoir turns to the dogwood tree as talisman, a presence from his childhood through a life richly textured with natural, literary, and cultural history. His artful reflections on friendship, family, poetry, transplanting trees, and global diplomacy show how ‘giving voice to nonhuman perspectives’ may indeed be essential to cultivating our humanity.” — Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Zoologies: On Animals and the Human Spirit
“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 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.” — Los Angeles Review of Books
“Part wanderlust epic, part reflection on nature, Merrill’s memoir will inspire the reader to walk in the sun.”— Booklist
“Self-Portrait with Dogwood reveals Christopher Merrill as a master of the English language and as having a genuine flair for consistently engaging his readers with observations that are as informed and informative as they are thoughtful and thought-provoking. The result is a compendium of a life's story that will linger in the mind and memory long after the book itself has been finished and set back upon the shelf.”— Midwest Book Review
“Extraordinary, prismatic new memoir that’s not a typical memoir, poet and global voyager Christopher Merrill — approaching his seventh decade — ruminates over his writing, his faith, his love of music and language, his accord with nature and environmental politics, and his kinship with his fellow man.”— San Antonio Express-News
“A calming, almost meditative experience. It's a joy to follow the lines of Merrill's thoughts.”— Orion Magazine
“Christopher Merrill’s Self-Portrait With Dogwood takes a poetic approach to memoir that weaves in threads of nature, politics, and faith as they connect to his memories of the dogwood tree, which he considers a talisman. Merrill writes in long, lyrical sentences packed with sound and meaning, yet there is an immediacy to his language that quickly reveals this as more than an exercise in reflection.”— Santa Fe New-Mexican
“We're pleased that the beautiful Dogwood, from which Native Americans used to make toothbrushes, daggers and arrows, and the medieval English used in religious ceremonies, has had a such a close connection with Chris and triggered him to write this delightful memoir.”— Iowa Public Radio
“Like nature itself, Merrill’s life, from a young age, has been punctuated by pure calm and extreme violence. These rhythms find their haunting, captivating expression in this slim, distilled book — a handheld key to Merrill’s unique vision, and to the wonders of nature.”— Los Angeles Review Books
- Eric Hoffer Book Award - First Runner Up Memoir
- Next Generation Indie Book Awards - Memoir
- Foreword Indies Awards - Memoir
- Independent Publisher Book Award - Silver for Memoir