Early this month, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington named W.S. Merwin the nation’s 17th poet laureate. Said Billington: “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.”
Earlier this year Merwin traveled to Seattle from his Hawaii home to read with Pacific Northwest poets at Town Hall in a special celebration of his work, enchanting the audience with the liquid music of his intelligence and his quiet personal grace.
Readers unfamiliar with Merwin (and readers already in love with his poetry) can watch a delightful video of the poet online. It’s an excerpt from “The Poet’s View: Intimate Profiles of Five Major American Poets,” a DVD series produced by the Academy of American Poets that also includes portraits of John Ashbery, Louise Gluck, Anthony Hecht, and Kay Ryan. Linked to the Academy sidebar are some of Merwin’s poems and prose pieces along with a brief bio. An article in the Washington Post tells more about Merwin’s life and work.
Here’s the video, filmed at the poet’s home in rural Maui, where Merwin has spent decades reforesting degraded land. He lives atop a dormant volcano — an apt location for reminding us that truly powerful lives and writings don’t have to erupt.