Friday, February 05, 2010

Merwin in Seattle

New Orleans, 1971
Photo Copyright
Jack Miller

Last night, W.S.Merwin and poets honoring him gave readings in Seattle. Here is friend Brenda Skinner's account of the evening, followed by the announcement of the event from the Seattle P-I.

Dear Jack,
A little recap of the evening. 
Four ‘younger poets’ (how Copper Canyon Press had written of the event) along with W.S. Merwin shared the stage.  The other poets typically read only 2-3 poems, they were:  Erin Belieu, Ben Lerner, Valzhyna Mort, and Matthew Zapruder  I was anticipating hearing from Erin B. in which she read two very short poems, sort of disappointing for me as I wanted to hear more.  Each poet opened with declaring or summarizing Merwin’s influence on them.  This seemed a bit awkward to me, as their declarations seemed placed or tucked in for the event, since the event was for Merwin.  Two of the poets poked and punned with Merwin’s name, not knowing how to address him:  they wrangled with Bill, William, and Mr. Merwin.  Hope he took that in fun, I would have thought they might have worked that out spending the course of the day and lunch with him.
Next up was Ben Lerner, a poet I have not heard of.  Very articulate in his opening to William, and he ran laps with long sentences and wordiness.  And Ms. Mort’s dedication seemed to have some authenticity.  She spoke of finding Merwin through the translations of a Russian poet, Osip Mandelshtam.  When Merwin took the stage, he turned and thanked her for mentioning O. Mandelshtam, and the struggle Osip had gone through to smuggle the poetry out of Russia, also he mentioned Clarence Brown as inspiration. And lastly, Matthew Z. said he thought and thought for several weeks of what he would say…  He began with, um.  I’m sure the honor of reading with him was overwhelming and some weren’t sure how to handle that. 
Merwin took the stage.  He made mention of Blake’s “Tyger…”  He brought that up as he was stating how poetry is not often understood, when we first begin reading poetry, it’s terrifying.  Thus, the terrifying effect of the tiger.  The poetry he read went back 25 years ago, to his current book, ‘Shadow of Sirius’ and newer poems.  (I wrote them down as well; if you want them just give me a shout.)  He took a moment to preface a poem with stating how there is depression, and lack of hope in the world.  He said there has never been an unmutilated world, only one that is mutilated and that is the one that needs us.  Not to turn our backs to it.  (This must have been something I needed to hear, it lifted my thoughts.)  He read many recent poems, and in them I heard a man of acceptance, humbleness, gratitude, a man of places, people, bodies, love, words: poetry, a deep homage to all he has been given. 
A very humble, insightful man.  His words are resonating with me today.  I wouldn’t call him a political poet, but I feel he is deeply moved with the conditions and writes of them too.  He seems to be a man of peace.  A great man indeed.
He received a standing ovation.  Long applause. 
Jack, I had every intention of going to him with your words, though the event was full, I think there were at least 500-600 ppl, and I could be underestimating.  The event’s organizers gave instructions on how signing was going to work.  Indicating there would be no time for dedications or talking with the poets, only a signature.  We were to move along briskly, blah, blah, blah.  She also pointed out how the line would form and wrap around the room.
Though carrying your message was foremost in my thoughts. 
Also, it was pointed out many Copper Canyon poets were in the audience and had come from near and far.

W.S. Merwin & Friends: Four Poets Share the Stage and Their Thoughts

The pressmark of Copper Canyon Press.
The Chinese character for poetry. Comprised of two parts: word and temple.

One of the edicts of Copper Canyon Press is to publish books "by both revered and emerging American poets."

On February 4, this commitment comes to life when two time Pulitzer Prize winning poet W.S. Merwin will read with four younger poets from the Copper Canyon stable in a benefit for the press. Joining Merwin at Seattle's Town Hall will be Ben Lerner, Erin Belieu, Matthew Zapruder and Valzhyna Mort.

To celebrate the event Book Patrol has asked each of the younger poets to share a Merwin experience; whether it be his influence, a favorite poem or a first encounter, we left it pretty open.

For the next four days we will feature one of their responses.

If your in the region: Tickets are $15, $10 for students. For $100 donation you get to hang out with everybody before the reading. They will all be signing books after the reading and Cooper Canyon has produced a letterpress broadside printed by Urban Editions in honor of the event which will also be available.

Must listen: KUOW's Weekday will have Merwin on for an hour-long interview with call-ins on the morning of the 4th.

For now, we leave you with 'Far Along in the Story,' a poem by W.S. Merwin

Far Along in the Story

The boy walked on with a flock of cranes
following him calling as they came
from the horizon behind him
sometimes he thought he could recognize
a voice in all that calling but he
could not hear what they were calling
and when he looked back he could not tell
one of them from another in their
rising and falling but he went on
trying to remember something in
their calls until he stumbled and came
to himself with the day before him
wide open and the stones of the path
lying still and each tree in its own leaves
the cranes were gone from the sky and at
that moment he remembered who he was
only he had forgotten his name

W.S. Merwin books
at Copper Canyon.

Jay Parini's piece in the Guardian, Why W.S. Merwin deserves his second Pulitzer prize, April, 2009. 

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