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.