W.S. Merwin named new U.S. poet laureate

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Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner W.S. Merwin will be the 2010-11 U.S. poet laureate, the Library of Congress announced Thursday. The 82-year-old Merwin, who is also a National Book Award recipient, succeeds Kay Ryan.

William Stanley Merwin was born in New York; he grew up in New Jersey and Pennsylvania and attended Princeton, where he studied with poet John Berryman. He is quoted by the Poetry Foundation as admitting that “it was not until I had received a scholarship and gone away to the university that I began to read poetry steadily and try incessantly, and with abiding desperation, to write it.”


Merwin, who undertook translation early in his career, has been a writer for more than 60 years. Among his most acclaimed works are “The Lice” (1967), “The Carrier of Ladders” (1970) and “Migration: New and Selected Poems” (2005), for which he won his most recent Pulitzer.

W.S. Merwin moved to Hawaii in 1976. In a 1999 interview at his home there, he told the New York Times, “Everything’s got to do with listening.” Then he continued, “Poetry is physical. 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 selection from “Migration” by W.S. Merwin, the poem “Provision”:


All morning with dry instruments The field repeats the sound Of rain From memory And in the wall The dead increase their invisible honey It is August The flocks are beginning to form I will take with me the emptiness of my handsWhat you do not have you find everywhere

-- Carolyn Kellogg

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