As his last official act as our nation’s Poet Laureate, W.S. Merwin read at the Library of Congress (inside the Thomas Jefferson building – the beautiful one, not its sterile and practical siblings).
Though I still have doubts about his poetry and his appointment as Laureate, I enjoyed his opening remarks greatly. He remains dedicated, in both his life and work, to the style of eco-poetics developed early in his career. The Lice is still the best collection of eco-poetry out there. Unfortunately, that was published in 1969 and it feels like he’s been imitating himself ever since (except for his follow up to The Lice, called Carrier of Ladders, which is a great work of political, anti-war poetry).
In person, Merwin is a small man with a thick white comb over and voice that was both clear and quavering. His opening remarks were pleasantly political and he attributed to Thomas Jefferson a wonderful quote, “The only excuse for government is the good of governed,” which came as a rebuttal to the knee jerk small government rhetoric which is so uncritically spouted by so many these days.
The poetry he read was good, but as I suggested before, three quarters of the poems he read sounded too much like each other. I also felt an urge to grab him by the collar and shout, “Yes, we get it, you live in a tropical paradise in Hawaii and your life is so super awesome compared to ours.”
I brought a copy of Flower & Hand to be signed. Merwin generously spoke to everyone in line. Unfortunately, the line was incredibly long and it took me more than ninety minutes to reach him (I was one of the first folks to line up) because he spent so much time with everyone who walked up. While very considerate in many ways, not so muc.h in other ways
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