How fascinating that just 2 days after my previous post, W.S. Merwin has won his second Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Pleased by His Pulitzer, Surprised by PoetryBy Motoko Rich
W. S. Merwin won his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry on Monday for “The Shadow of Sirius,” a collection that the Pulitzer board described in its citation as “luminous” and “often tender” — and that Merwin called a happy accident.
“It’s always assumed that you’ve planned everything in advance and that it all fell into place,” Merwin said, speaking by telephone from his home in Haiku, Hawaii. “If people are honest, very few gardens are exactly the way they were planned, if they were ever planned. They evolve, just like children grow up.” (And no, he said, the name of his current home does not refer to the three-lined metered Japanese poetry form, but means “break” and “straight up” in Hawaiian.)
He said that he always looked to be taken by surprise — “surprise that it happens at all and surprise that it works and that it’s complete.” After writing several new poems, he continued, “I suddenly think there are quite a few poems and I want to see if they have any relation to each other and begin to see what order they might be in and see if they really come to a collection. I wouldn’t make any rules about how it happens any more than you can do about what makes a birdsong complete or anything else.”
“The Shadow of Sirius” was written without punctuation and in free verse, and its poems are among the most autobiographical of his career. They touch on themes of memory, wisdom and childhood.
“In the time when the conventions were much more obvious and abstract — the sonnet or the heroic couplet — it was pretty clear when something was complete,” Merwin said. “But it’s not so clear now. I don’t have any kind of religious principles about whether things should be rhymed, metered or free verse. A poem takes its own form and all of those things are good.”
Merwin described the collection as having a first section about childhood and remembering childhood, “not from a distance, but from inside.” The middle section is a collection of elegies to dogs, and the final section is about later life.
In a review, Publishers Weekly praised the volume — Merwin’s 21st, according to his publisher, Copper Canyon Press — as his “best book in a decade.”Merwin said he continued to be taken by surprise by poems. “I have one written in my notebook,” he said. “I haven’t even typed it up yet. Maybe that’s a surprise waiting for me.”