Saturday, July 10, 2010

Merwin Named Poet Laureate

Acclaimed poet W.S. Merwin's recent appointment as Poet Laureate has got me thinking about and re-reading some of my favorite Merwin poems.

To be honest, not every one of his poems strikes a chord with me. This spring, I took a look at The Shadow of Sirius and really had trouble getting into it.  Even in the poems of his I like, Merwin is usually a challenging read for me. But that, for me as a reader, is part of the pleasure. I enjoy the complexity, the joy of trying to master the language and make sense of it all.

I also enjoy the raw emotion of some of his poems. There are some feelings that words just can't do justice because of their depth and complexity. Merwin, however, finds the language and captures these emotions exquisitely. Take, for example, "Separation," a short and perfectly painful poem about loss.

Or what about this one?

By W.S. Merwin

My friend says I was not a good son
you understand
I say yes I understand

Stop right there. The ambiguity caused by the absence of quotation marks has me totally hooked. Go on to read the rest of the poem and see if the sadness of this poem resonates with you, too. Or, better yet, listen to W.S. Merwin read it himself:

One of my other favorites is one I can't find a copy-written version online, "The Unwritten." Maybe you know it--it's fabulous. So instead I leave you with one last poem from our newest Poet Laureate:

To the Blank Spaces

For longer than by now I can believe
I assumed that you had nothing to do
with each other I thought you had arrived
                  whenever that had been

more solitary than single snowflakes
with no acquaintance or understanding
running among you guiding your footsteps
                  somewhere ahead of me

in your own time oh white lakes on the maps
that I copied and gaps on the paper
for the names that were to appear in them

Read the rest of the poem here if you wish. And be sure to share your favorite Merwin poems in the comments.

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