November 8, 2010
This photo of W. S. Merwin signing a book was taken after his reading at The Kenyon Review Literary Festival last Saturday night. The audience packed into Rosse Hall, putting me — delayed by traffic congestion on I-71 – in likely the worst seat in the house: the first row, smack up against the stage, in front of the podium that stood at the edge of the stage.
Imagine sitting in the first row of a movie theater, and you’ll get the idea of my crooked neck. All I could see was this U.S. Poet Laureate’s brilliant blue eyes and thick white hair. But what did it matter? One attends these events to listen.
W. S. Merwin read first from his collection The Vixen: Poems, published by Knopf in 1996, and later from The Shadow of Sirius, winner of the 2009 Pulitzer Prize in poetry. In between and among his readings of poems, he talked about his role as poet laureate, his love of dogs and our human connection to the natural world, which he said we should neither ignore nor exploit.
There was no Q&A after the reading. W. S. Merwin was escorted to a desk on stage where he signed one book per person. That’s his signature below on my first edition of The Shadow of Sirius. I also got another take-away from this event – curiosity to investigate, perhaps re-read, Jonathan Swift of Gulliver’s Travels fame. Merwin invoked the satirist when he quoted from the Miscellanies: “I never wonder to see men wicked, but I often wonder to see them not ashamed.”
Merwin’s first collection of poetry, A Mask for Janus, was published in 1952. From The New York Times: “Mr. Merwin came to wider attention for his hard-edged political allegories that condemned the Vietnam War and environmental destruction, starting with his 1967 collection, The Lice.” He’s written more than 30 books of poetry and prose as well as many translations. The Poetry Foundation provides a comprehensive list of his work.
William Stanley Merwin is the nation’s 17th poet laureate.
November 25, 2009
On Thanksgiving day I’ll be feasting with friends, each bringing to the table interesting home-cooked dishes, a bottle of pinot noir and a poem.
We are to bring (in the words of a participating friend) whatever verse has meaning to us – original, old favorite, modern, ancient, whatever we may find … the fewer parameters, the better … because part of the enjoyment is to experience the reason for the choice, why each person’s verse has personal meaning.
I’ll be sharing W. S. Merwin’s “To the Happy Few.” It’s not available online without cost (unless you subscribe to The New York Review of Books ). Since copyright police would frown at posting it in full on The Longest Chapter without permission, I’ll offer here, as a replacement, another Merwin poem.
W. S. Merwin became a favorite of mine this year with The Shadow of Sirius, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.
Thank you to all who follow The Longest Chapter. I’m grateful for your reading presence and this blogging adventure. Happy Thanksgiving!
“Thanks” by W. S. Merwin
with the night falling we are saying thank you
we are stopping on the bridges to bow from the railings
we are running out of the glass rooms
with our mouths full of food to look at the sky
and say thank you
we are standing by the water thanking it
smiling by the windows looking out
in our directions… <read more>
Noted: Updated Thanksgiving 2012, with minor edits.
April 20, 2009
Pulitzer Prize winners for Letters, Drama and Music 2009 announced today are listed here in the New York Times. Among them is W. S. Merwin for his extraordinary collection of poetry The Shadow of Sirius.
One of my favorites in the collection, etching unforgettable images/sounds, “An Empty Lot” about the “long dusty patch/ of high ragweed” owned by a coal company that:
would do nothing with it but keep it
in case they ever should need to sink
an emergency shaft to miners
in trouble below there nobody could say
how far down…
I’ve been reading this collection slowly over the past month, savoring each poem. This is an extraordinarily rich gathering of thought about memory, the past, nostalgia, what has been, what could be.
This page was updated 2.25.12 to correct broken links.
March 21, 2009
W. S. Merwin’s The Shadow of Sirius was sitting on the passenger seat along with several other books I felt compelled to carry with me on my Saturday errands – I couldn’t decide what to read next, hence all my choices traveled with me for potential ‘sneak read’ moments. Reading in the grocery parking lot, I came to these three lines from the poem “Note,” that are gorgeous and filled with possibility of one’s own. I must share:
Remember how the naked soul
comes to language and at once knows
loss and distance and believing