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Bob Holman & Margery Snyder

W.S. Merwin the New American Poet Laureate

By July 5, 2010

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The poetry world is buzzing with news of the appointment of W.S. Merwin as the new U.S. Poet Laureate, to succeed Kay Ryan. Some wish he were more of a “poetry activist” in the mold of Robert Pinsky—we applaud his quiet but eloquent environmental activism, having devoted many years of his life and his bountiful poetic gifts to delineating the interconnections between human life and the natural world and advocating respect for that interconnected web. And because he plans to remain at his remote home in Hawaii most of the time, we look forward to seeing how the technological web will serve poetry during his laureateship.

from The New York Times:
Finding Home and Inspiration in the World of Nature
by Dwight Garner

“The most surprising thing about Mr. Merwin’s selection as poet laureate of the United States is that he hasn’t held the position before.... He is an establishment poet who has collected most of the establishment’s prizes. Some will call his selection now safe, dull, uncontroversial, blah. And they’ll have a point.... But Mr. Merwin’s appointment is potentially inspired. He is an exacting nature poet, a fierce critic of the ecological damage humans have wrought. Helen Vendler, writing last year in The New York Review of Books, called him ‘the prophet of a denuded planet.’ With the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico becoming more dread and apocalyptic by the hour, Mr. Merwin may be a poet we’ll need. The pacifist in him may brood over the long war in Afghanistan.”

from The Christian Science Monitor:
W.S. Merwin: What kind of poet laureate will he be?” by Elizabeth Lund
“As poet laureate, W.S. Merwin is assuming a role with changing expectations.... Merwin has lived his activism for most of his distinguished career. That’s obvious in his writing, which has evolved, over time, from tight imagistic poems to sprawling pieces that lack punctuation to his more recent work, which uses everyday experiences—walking with his dogs, remembering his father—to explore complex metaphysical concepts. Each shift required boldness of thought and the willingness to take big risks.”

from Fresh Air (National Public Radio):
‘Sirius’ Poetry From New Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin (2008 interview and reading)
“I think memory is essential to what we are. We wouldn’t be able to talk to each other without memory, and what we think of as the present really is the past. It is made out of the past. The present is an absolutely transparent moment that only great saints ever see occasionally.”

Related Resources:
Poets Laureate, a Brief History
Poets Laureate of the U.S.A., a Net-annotated List

Our Profiles of Recent U.S. Poet Laureates
Kay Ryan (2008-2009)
Charles Simic (2007-2008)
Donald Hall (2006-2007)
Ted Kooser (2004-2006)
Louise Glück (2003-2004)
Stanley Kunitz (2000-2001)
Robert Pinsky (1997-2000)

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