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'For most people he speaks most eloquently through his verse.'
July 1, 2010 2:39 PM   Subscribe

W.S. Merwin is your new poet laureate.
posted by xowie (53 comments total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

 
You're going to rile wilful up something fierce.
posted by rewil at 2:40 PM on July 1, 2010 [15 favorites]


But can he bust a rhyme?
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:46 PM on July 1, 2010


I suspect a fair few people will be thinking that Carol Ann Duffy has retired, purely because Poet Laureate is a pretty big thing in the UK. I had no idea the US even had a poet laureate (so yay new knowledge).

Hell, there are smear campaigns for lesser poetry posts.

The history of poet laureates in general is quite interesting.
posted by djgh at 2:51 PM on July 1, 2010


As long as he is not our denizen laureate, I think we are good.
posted by Danf at 2:51 PM on July 1, 2010


Good news. But I will never stop hoping that Billy Collins gets a reprise. His poetry is extraordinary -- for example.
posted by bearwife at 2:52 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


β€œW. S. Merwin is an inevitable choice for poet laureate,” said Dana Gioia, a poet and a former chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. β€œHe has created a distinctive style. His poetry is lyrical, elliptical and often slightly mysterious.”

This, especially the carefully neutral word "inevitable," strikes me as backhanded praise from Gioia, who tends to advocate of a more demotic, less mysterious poetic style (like Billy Collins or Stephen Dobyns, though I don't know whether Gioia favors these poets in particular.
posted by escabeche at 2:53 PM on July 1, 2010


Who you mean mine, white man?
posted by micketymoc at 2:53 PM on July 1, 2010


Unfortunately, no, it's still Pierre DesRuisseaux.
posted by GuyZero at 2:56 PM on July 1, 2010


I love W. S. Merwin and have nothing snarky to say (though I will admit to briefly thinking "about damn time" when I first heard the news).
posted by scody at 3:00 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I love Merwin also. What a great gig he has. . .able to live on Maui, supported by his poetry. What's not to like about that?
posted by Danf at 3:02 PM on July 1, 2010


TEAM JOHN DONNE


Oh wait wrong thread
posted by jnrussell at 3:09 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


yay! it's about time. i wrote my senior thesis on the dude. I KNEW obama read it!
posted by shmegegge at 3:20 PM on July 1, 2010


Well, Ireland has Seamus Heaney and the UK has Carol Ann Duffy, so I have two already, but I guess you can never have too many poet laureates.
posted by knapah at 3:21 PM on July 1, 2010


Well, Ireland has Seamus Heaney and the UK has Carol Ann Duffy, so I have two already, but I guess you can never have too many poet laureates.

Collect them all!
posted by kmz at 3:24 PM on July 1, 2010


Your poet laureate is Cilla McQueen
posted by KokuRyu at 3:28 PM on July 1, 2010


Charlton Heston is MY Poet Laureate!

Am I doing it right?
posted by grapefruitmoon at 3:42 PM on July 1, 2010


poets laureate.

Just saying.
posted by sonic meat machine at 3:43 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


WHEN YOU GO AWAY

When you go away the wind clicks around to the north
The painters work all day but at sundown the paint falls
Showing the black walls
The clock goes back to striking the same hour
That has no place in the years

And at night wrapped in the bed of ashes
In one breath I wake
It is the time when the beards of the dead get their growth
I remember that I am falling
That I am the reason
And that my words are the garment of what I shall never be
Like the tucked sleeve of a one-armed boy
posted by Pants McCracky at 3:47 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


TEAM JOHN DONNE

I just started reading The Year of Magical Thinking and for the first page or so it was hard not to think "Jeez, I know Joan Didion's been around forever, but...oh, right, Dunne."
posted by kittyprecious at 4:13 PM on July 1, 2010


I didn't vote for him.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:31 PM on July 1, 2010 [3 favorites]


NOT MY POET LAUREATE!
posted by saul wright at 4:36 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Twoowy, this is gweat news.
posted by Evilspork at 4:41 PM on July 1, 2010


Tom Waits is my poet laureate, and I think I'll keep my current hiring policies in place. Thanks anyways xowie.
posted by Meatbomb at 4:52 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh terrible, beloved! A poet's loving
Is a restless god's passionate rage,
And chaos out into the world comes creeping,
As in the ancient fossil age.

His eyes weep him mist by the ton,
Enveloped in tears he is mammoth-like,
Out of fashion. He knows it must not be done.
Ages have passed-he does not know why.

He sees wedding parties all around,
Drunken unions celebrated unaware,
Common frogspawn found in every pond
Ritually adorned as precious caviare.

Like some Watteau pearl, how cleverly
A snuffbox embraces all life's matter,
And vengeance is wreaked on him, probably
Because, where they distort and flatter,

Where simpering comfort lies and fawns,
Where they rub idle shoulders, crawl like drones,
He will raise your sister from the ground,
Use her like a bacchante from the Grecian urns,

And pour into his kiss the Andes' melting,
And morning in the steppe, under the sway
Of dusted stars, as night's pallid bleating
Bustles about the village on its way.

And the botanical vestry's dense blackness,
And all the ravine's age-old breath,
Waft over the ennui of the stuffed mattress,
And the forest's ancient chaos spurts forth

(by Boris Pasternak, courtesy of my current book and of the internets.)


TEAM JOHN DONNE

Oh wait wrong thread

Though one has to wonder: No man is an island. But are vampires islands despite their dislike for water? And who would pollute islands with all that glitter? It must be awful in the summer.
posted by ersatz at 5:10 PM on July 1, 2010


You're going to rile wilful up something fierce.

Actually rewil, I'm not riled up or fierce about this stuff at all.

It's just poor manners, thoughtlessness on the part of the OP. S/he'll hopefully learn.
posted by wilful at 5:20 PM on July 1, 2010


I bet Kay Ryan is relieved not to have to do it any more. Not that I hear Merwin is any more enthusiastic than she was, or than Charles Simic. There's something odd about celebrating poets, who are quirky and private. Robert Pinsky and Billy Collins were the only enthusiastic ones, weren't they? Pinsky did it for three years, I believe.
posted by Peach at 5:26 PM on July 1, 2010


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
posted by KingEdRa at 5:26 PM on July 1, 2010 [5 favorites]


> You're going to rile wilful up something fierce.
posted by rewil


Anagrameponysterical!

Also, good for Merwin; as scody says, it's about damn time. (I differ from Dana Gioia in my relative valuation of the highflown/literary and lowflown/demotic styles.)
posted by languagehat at 5:44 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


WS Merwin! Man, he's pretty good, huh (I am relieved to agree w/ languagehat about that, I'd hate to be wrong! Of course he probably wouldn't *say* I was wrong, but still...)

Always liked this one:

For The Anniversary Of My Death
by W. S. Merwin

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what

----

Is it possible there's *nobody* going to be all 'your favorite poet sucks' in this thread? DANG...
posted by hap_hazard at 6:40 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Well, I didn't vote for him.
posted by The Confessor at 6:45 PM on July 1, 2010


I like W.S. Merwin and I love the poem KingEdRa posted but I would love to see Wendell Berry named poet laureate.
posted by headnsouth at 7:03 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Charlton Heston is MY Poet Laureate!
Poet Lariat. Important difference.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 7:12 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


Robert Earl Keen is my ding dang Poet Lariat.
posted by Devils Rancher at 7:29 PM on July 1, 2010


Didn't like his Green Knight.
posted by BlackLeotardFront at 7:52 PM on July 1, 2010


For A Coming Extinction
by W.S. Merwin

Gray whale
Now that we are sending you to The End
That great god
Tell him
That we who follow you invented forgiveness
And forgive nothing

I write as though you could understand
And I could say it
One must always pretend something
Among the dying
When you have left the seas nodding on their stalks
Empty of you
Tell him that we were made
On another day

The bewilderment will diminish like an echo
Winding along your inner mountains
Unheard by us
And find its way out
Leaving behind it the future
Dead
And ours

When you will not see again
The whale calves trying the light
Consider what you will find in the black garden
And its court
The sea cows the Great Auks the gorillas
The irreplaceable hosts ranged countless
And fore-ordaining as stars
Our sacrifices
Join your work to theirs
Tell him
That it is we who are important
posted by salvia at 8:05 PM on July 1, 2010 [2 favorites]


Oh, and for other Merwin fans who may have missed it, he's one of the commentators in the recent PBS documentary, The Buddha.
posted by scody at 8:09 PM on July 1, 2010


I would love to see Wendell Berry named poet laureate.

Gosh, do you think he'd even accept the post? I'm from Lexington, Ky, so I've seen him read a few times, and he was a close friend to my late mentor. And let me tell you, my understanding is that the man closely guards his privacy and keeps his list of engagements as short as is humanly possible.
posted by sunnichka at 8:10 PM on July 1, 2010


Also, I wish that the US named poet laureates less frequently. If it only happened, say, once a decade, maybe it'd be a big controversy every time and make things more exciting. I'm with John Barr, I think English poetry has gone stagnant.
posted by sunnichka at 8:14 PM on July 1, 2010


Merwin has always been at the top of my list of poets who write in the lyrical mode. I've always been partial to the more rambunctious narrative poets, like Stephen Dobyns and David Kirby (whom I studied under), but Merwin is one of the few lyrical poets who never leaves me feeling bamboozled. This is a well-deserved recognition of his talent as the master of the evocative understatement.
posted by saulgoodman at 8:19 PM on July 1, 2010


'Your poet laureate' is poetic commentary on American governmental doublespeak. I reject the assertions of jingoistic rudeness and deny that I am a white man. Happy 4th of July, suckers!
posted by xowie at 8:27 PM on July 1, 2010


In a dream I returned to the river of bees
Five orange trees by the bridge and
Beside two mills my house
Into whose courtyard a blindman followed
The goats and stood singing
Of what was older

Soon it will be fifteen years

He was old he will have fallen into his eyes

I took my eyes
A long way to the calendars
Room after room asking how shall I live

One of the ends is made of streets
One man processions carry through it
Empty bottles their
Image of hope
It was offered to me by name

Once once and once
In the same city I was born
Asking what shall I say

He will have fallen into his mouth
Men think they are better than grass

I return to his voice rising like a forkful of hay

He was old he is not real nothing is real
Nor the noise of death drawing water

We are the echo of the future

On the door it says what to do to survive
But we were not born to survive
Only to live
--


I've got an mp3 of Merwin reading this somewhere, I think, if anyone wants to hear it--it's gorgeous.
posted by hototogisu at 9:08 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've got an mp3 of Merwin reading this somewhere, I think, if anyone wants to hear it--

Ooh, yes please!
posted by salvia at 9:20 PM on July 1, 2010


Nthing Wendell Berry for the next USian Poet Laureate. His A Timbered Choir is one of my "desert island" books. His Port Royal stories and novels are all kinds of awesome-- Jayber Crow should be on everybody's reading list. And then there's his essays! You know what? I'm calling it now: Wendell Berry: National Treasure

Also, for those who were wondering (and to stop this derail), the name of the Merwin poem I posted is Seperation. It was used in NYC's Poetry in Motion campaign back in the 90's, where they put poems in the advertising card slots inside subway cars. One of the few pleasantly awesome things of living in Giuliani's New York.
posted by KingEdRa at 9:57 PM on July 1, 2010


A Message to Po Chu-I
posted by homunculus at 10:18 PM on July 1, 2010


A Birthday

Something continues and
I don't know what to call it
though the language is full of suggestions
in the way of language
but they are all anonymous
and it's almost your birthday
music next to my bones

these nights we hear the horses
running in the rain
it stops and the moon comes out
and we are still here
the leaks in the roof go on dripping
after the rain has passed
smell of ginger flowers
slips through the dark house
down near the sea
the slow heart of the beacon flashes

the long way to you is still tied to me
but it brought me to you
I keep wanting to give you
what is already yours
it is the morning
of the mornings together
breath of summer
oh my found one
the sleep in the same current
and each waking to you

when I open my eyes
you are what I wanted to see.
-------------------------------------------
I read this one aloud once a year.

And Wendell Berry? "National Treasure" is too limiting, we need to invent a new term just for him.
posted by Floydd at 8:32 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sweet! Here's a favorite I put on some homemade bookmarks for our wedding favors last year:

Separation


Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
posted by ifjuly at 8:45 AM on July 2, 2010


Fly - W.S. Merwin

I have been cruel to a fat pigeon
Because he would not fly
All he wanted was to live like a friendly old man

He had let himself become a wreck filthy and confiding
Wild for his food beating the cat off the garbage
Ignoring his mate perpetually snotty at the beak
Smelling waddling having to be
Carried up the ladder at night content

Fly I said throwing him into the air
But he would drop and run back expecting to be fed
I said it again and again throwing him up
As he got worse
He let himself be picked up every time
Until I found him in the dovecote dead
Of the needless efforts

So that is what I am
Pondering his eye that could not
Conceive that I was a creature to run from

I who have always believed too much in words
posted by jeather at 9:45 AM on July 2, 2010


This is a great source for biographies and poems of a lot of people.

The Poetry Foundation (they also do Poetry Magazine)

It has a lot of his poems.

If you like poetry but feel like you don't know where to start, go to a used bookstore and see if they have older versions of the America's Best Poetry anthologies. They should be pretty cheap. Get a few, they have vastly different styles from year to year. See what you like, see where those poems were originally published, and think about subscribing to those poetry journals. Or if a particular author stands out to you, grab one of their books.

Don't feel the need to be serious, just read what you like and be happy.

And, if you like translations, try Circumference. It prints the original as well as the translation. Whee!
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:50 AM on July 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Also, I have to say, I'm not the biggest Merwin fan. To me, his poems tend to lack the element of surprise that I adore in a poem.

Nothing will ever make me happier than the choice of Kay Ryan did. She makes the most profound and serious poems from some of the most un-serious and shallow-seeming starts. She'll write about chickens and you'll be thinking about the apocalypse. Reminiscent of "One Art" by Elizabeth Bishop.

The poem by her that makes me cry every time is "Blandeur" (yes, that's a made-up word.)
posted by internet fraud detective squad, station number 9 at 9:59 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


To me, his poems tend to lack the element of surprise that I adore in a poem.

I can kind of see how you'd feel that way, ifdss#9, and in the case of most other poets working in his mold, I'd probably agree with you. But with Merwin somehow there's a sense of austerity and strangeness in the way he crafts his language that keeps me satisfied anyway. That's a big part of why I personally hold him in such high regard--because he pretty consistently manages to win me over with poems of a kind I wouldn't ordinarily like.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:13 AM on July 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


another lyrical poet who, like Merwin, does this kind of thing well is Robert Creeley, although with a touch more of that element of surprise mentioned upthread.
posted by saulgoodman at 10:19 AM on July 2, 2010


I love everything by him that's been posted in this thread.

Fresh Air is running a 2008 interview with him today.
posted by the bricabrac man at 2:40 PM on July 2, 2010


The fact that I just now discovered that W.S. Merwin is still alive makes me feel like the biggest cretin in the U.S. of A. So, uh, thanks once again, Metafilter, for making me feel dumb.

(Far beats the usual way I find out I was wrong about someone I'd vaguely thought long dead - you know, ".")
posted by nanojath at 12:09 AM on July 3, 2010


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