|Merwin photograph © Matt Valentine|
July 1, 2010
Librarian of Congress James H. Billington today announced the appointment of W.S. Merwin as the Library’s 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry for 2010-2011.
Merwin will take up his duties in the fall, opening the Library’s annual literary series on Oct. 25 with a reading of his work.
"William Merwin’s poems are often profound and, at the same time, accessible to a vast audience," Billington said. "He leads us upstream from the flow of everyday things in life to half-hidden headwaters of wisdom about life itself. In his poem ‘Heartland,’ Merwin seems to suggest that a land of the heart within us might help map the heartland beyond—and that this ‘map’ might be rediscovered in something like a library, where ‘it survived beyond/ what could be known at the time/ in its archaic/ untaught language/ that brings the bees to the rosemary.’"
William Stanley Merwin succeeds Kay Ryan as Poet Laureate and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, Rita Dove and Richard Wilbur.
During a 60-year writing career, Merwin has received nearly every major literary award. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, just recently in 2009 for "The Shadow of Sirius" and in 1971 for "The Carrier of Ladders." In 2006, he won the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt Prize from the Library of Congress for "Present Company." His retrospective collection "Migration: New and Selected Poems" won the 2005 National Book Award for poetry.
Born in 1927, Merwin showed an early interest in language and music, writing hymns for his father, a Presbyterian minister. He studied poetry at Princeton and, in 1952, his first book, "A Mask for Janus," was selected by W.H. Auden for the Yale Series of Younger Poets Award.
The author of more than 30 books of poetry and prose, Merwin’s influence on American poetry is profound. Often noted by critics is his decision, in the 1960s, to relinquish the use of punctuation. "I had come to feel that punctuation stapled the poems to the page," Merwin wrote in his introduction to "The Second Four Books of Poems." "Whereas I wanted the poems to evoke the spoken language, and wanted the hearing of them to be essential to taking them in."
Merwin also has been long dedicated to translating poetry and plays from a wide array of languages, including Spanish and French. "I started translating partly as a discipline, hoping that the process might help me to learn to write."
In 1976, Merwin moved to Hawaii, where he and his wife Paula have fashioned a quiet life in beautiful, natural surroundings. An avid gardener, he has raised endangered palm trees on land that used to be a pineapple plantation.
"Although his poems often deal with simple everyday things, there is a nourishing quality about them that makes readers want more, "said Patricia Gray, head of the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center. "Like William Wordsworth, he is passionately interested in the natural world."
From 1999 to 2000, while Robert Pinsky served as Poet Laureate, Merwin along with Rita Dove and Louise Glück were named as Special Bicentennial Consultants in Poetry to help celebrate the Library’s bicentennial.
Merwin’s many honors also include the Bollingen Prize in Poetry, the Tanning Prize for Poetry, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the Wallace Stevens Award, the PEN Translation Prize, the Aiken Taylor Award for Modern American Poetry, and the Governor’s Award for Literature of the State of Hawaii. He has received a Ford Foundation grant and fellowships from the Academy of American Poets, the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Rockefeller Foundation. Merwin is a former chancellor of the Academy of American Poets.
The Shadow of Sirius
Migration: New & Selected Poems
The First Four Books of Poems
The Rain in the Trees
The Second Four Books of Poems: The Moving Target / The Lice / The Carrier of Ladders / Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment