Poetry Month Brings W.S. Merwin to UCSB

Under the stone sky the water waits with all its
songs inside it

— from W.S. Merwin’s “The Well,” in the collection The
Carrier of Ladders

REVERENT POET: The much-admired poet W.S.
Merwin returns to Santa Barbara as the crown jewel of another
extensive April Poetry Month. On this visit, he serves as
distinguished visiting fellow at UCSB’s College of Creative Studies
and will read from his work at Campbell Hall at 8 p.m. on Thursday,
April 13.

The first recipient of the prestigious Tanning Prize — not to
mention the Bollingen, Pulitzer, and Ruth Lily awards — Merwin has
most recently won the National Book Award for his gleanings from a
life’s work in the 400 poems of Migration: Selected Poems
1951-2001
. His stylistic brilliance lives at ease with a depth
of subject and a clarity of suggestion unrivaled among the greatest
poets of our day, or of any other day for that matter.

Autobiographical and intimate, Merwin’s writings marvel at the
mystery of our presence in a world of pain and outrage, beauty and
wonder, releasing a shimmering vibrancy like tuning forks struck on
the rock of the real. Among poets he is a spiritual force, a lover
and protector of daily being in this fragile existence we share.
His art nourishes us by its marriage of subtle perception and plain
speaking. Listen to a few lines from an evocation of springtime
from his collection The River Sound. The poem “Before a
Departure in Spring” concludes in a garden:

just risen from darkness and days of rain

it is only a moment the birds fly through it calling
to each other and are gone with their few notes and the flash of
their flight that had vanished before we ever knew it we watch
without touching any of it and we can tell ourselves only that this
is April this is the morning this never happened before and we both
remember it

“Poetry is physical,” the poet pointed out in an interview. “As
Pound said, poetry has one pole in reason and one pole in music.
It’s like making a joke. If you get one word wrong at the end of a
joke, you’ve lost the whole thing.”

A master at getting words right, Merwin has been much honored,
too, for his extensive translating — most recently of Dante’s
Purgatorio and Sir Gawain and the Green
Knight
 — and for his ecological activism, where again he
offers us a healing force. When he recently won the Orion Society’s
John Hay Award for Nature Writing and Eco-Consciousness, the
occasion’s citation pointed out how “lightly he lives on the land”
in his home in Maui with its restored plantation in progress and
its garden of 600 types of endangered palms.

In personal projects and political engagement with environmental
causes, Merwin displays a concern for the peril of the planet in a
rapacious era; if he cannot restore the rain forests, he can “plant
a tree every day.” His very life exemplifies the care that makes
him a crucial writer for our time.

“Reverence” seems the crucial word for this man’s engagement and
for his art; reverence for the planet, for what grows and for those
who move upon it; reverence for the poetic, knowing that it brings
us back again and again, with profound simplicity, to our best
selves.

Let me conclude with the final words from the poem “To the
Words” in this year’s Merwin book, Present Company:

you that were formed to begin with you that were
cried out you that were spoken to begin with to say what could be
said

ancient precious and helpless ones

say it

4•1•1 W.S. Merwin reads from his work on
Thursday, April 13 at 8 p.m., at UCSB’s Campbell Hall. Call
893-3535.

Login

Please note this login is to submit events or press releases. Use this page here to login for your Independent subscription

Not a member? Sign up here.