W. S. Merwin Named Poet Laureate

July 10, 2010

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington announced July 1 that W. S. Merwin has been appointed as the library’s 17th poet laureate consultant in poetry. Merwin will serve as poet laureate for 2010–2011 and is scheduled to open the Library of Congress’s annual literary series October 25 with a reading from his work.

“William Merwin’s poems are often profound and, at the same time, accessible to a vast audience,” Billington said in a news release announcing the appointment. “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.’”

Born September 30, 1927, William Stanley Merwin succeeds Kay Ryan as poet laureate and joins a long line of distinguished poets who have served in the position, including Charles Simic, Donald Hall, Ted Kooser, Louise Glück, Billy Collins, Stanley Kunitz, Robert Pinsky, Robert Hass, Rita Dove, and Richard Wilbur.

During a 60-year writing career in which he has written more than 30 books of poetry and prose, Merwin has received nearly every major literary award. He is a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize, just 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.

"Merwin’s influence on American poetry has been profound," the LC news release said. 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.”

“Although his poems often deal with simple everyday things, there is a nourishing quality about them that makes readers want more," said Patricia Gray, head of the library’s Poetry and Literature Center. “Like William Wordsworth, he is passionately interested in the natural world.”


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