October 15, 2010 W. S. Merwin to Give Inaugural Reading as U.S. Poet Laureate on Oct. 25
Press Contact: Donna Urschel (202) 707-1639
Public Contact: Patricia Gray (202) 707-5394
W.S. Merwin, the new Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress, an undisputed master who has won nearly every major literary award, will open the Library’s 2010-2011 literary season with a reading on Oct. 25.
The event will start at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 25, in the Coolidge Auditorium on the ground level of the Thomas Jefferson Building, 10 First St. S.E., Washington, D.C. A reception and book-signing will follow the reading.
Sponsored by the Library’s Poetry and Literature Center in the Office of Scholarly Programs, the reading is free and open to the public. Tickets and reservations are not required, but early arrival is recommended for this popular reading.
The Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced on July 1 the appointment of W.S. Merwin as the Library’s 17th Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry.
In making the selection, Billington said, “William Merwin’s poems are often profound and, at the same time, accessible to a vast audience. 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.’”
During a 60-year writing career, Merwin has been a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, most 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.
The Poetry and Literature Center administers both the noon and the evening series and is the home of the Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. Many of the nation=s most eminent poets have served as Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress and, after the passage of Public Law 99 194 (Dec. 20, 1985), as Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. For more information, visit www.loc.gov/poetry/.