W.S. Merwin is our 17th Poet Laureate

I was thrilled to hear that our next poet laureate will be W.S. Merwin. The  82-year-old poet who studied Poetry at Princeton, has written more than 30 books of poetry, translation and prose, won a National Book Award in 2005 for “Migration: New and Selected Poems“, and two Pulitzer Prizes (“The Carrier of Ladders” in 1971, and “The Shadow of Sirius” in 2009).

In the 1960’s he stopped using punctuation in his poetry.  “The moment you drop the punctuation, you have to hear it.”

As poet laureate, Merwin said he’d like to make poetry more accessible to the public and help people rediscover their joy of verse.

“Most people will tell you they never read poetry,” he said, “and if you ask them why they’ll say they don’t understand it. I tell them, don’t worry about understanding it, listen to it for pleasure. Very often all people have to do is hear it – if they hear poetry, they get it.”

Thanks to my friend Dinah, I heard him read last year at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. He read us poems about simple, everyday topics like walking his dogs and remembering his father.  I found myself sitting forward in my seat, so I wouldn’t miss a single word. Unfortunately someone in the audience collapsed, an ambulance had to be called, and the reading ended in the middle of a line  with me holding my breath…

The reading was the same month as my late father’s 100th birthday, and the poem Yesterday hit me hard in the gut.

Yesterday by W.S. Merwin (1963)

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

he says I did not go
to see my parents very often you know
and I say yes I know

even when I was living in the same city he says
maybe I would go there once
a month or maybe even less
I say oh yes

he says the last time I went to see my father
I say the last time I saw my father

he says the last time I saw my father
he was asking me about my life
how I was making out and he
went into the next room
to get something to give me

oh I say
feeling again the cold
of my father's hand the last time
he says and my father turned
in the doorway and saw me
look at my wristwatch and he
said you know I would like you to stay
and talk with me

oh yes I say

but if you are busy he said
I don't want you to feel that you
have to
just because I'm here

I say nothing

he says my father
said maybe
you have important work you are doing
or maybe you should be seeing
somebody I don't want to keep you

I look out the window
my friend is older than I am
he says and I told my father it was so
and I got up and left him then
you know

though there was nowhere I had to go
and nothing I had to do
From Opening the Hand, by W. S. Merwin, published by Atheneum. Copyright © 1983 by W. S. Merwin.


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About dearrosie

We think we need so much, when all we really need is time to breathe. Come walk with me, put one foot in front of the other, and get to know yourself. Please click the link to my blog - below - and leave me a comment. I love visitors.
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3 Responses to W.S. Merwin is our 17th Poet Laureate

  1. thank you for this splendid post, wondering rose — isn’t it grand to have an old fart in this post? and now that the 140-character world is so big, maybe poetry will catch on again? thanks for sharing these — made my day

  2. Betty says:

    Oh, this just kills me. Reminds me of some of Raymond Carver’s poems — specially My Father’s Wallet. Another gut-wrencher. Lovely post!!!

  3. Pingback: Poetry: Berryman by W.S. Merwin | Wondering Rose

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