Thursday, April 27, 2017

National Poetry Month: W.S. Merwin


"Before the Flood" 
(W.S. Merwin)

Why did he promise me
that we would build ourselves
an ark all by ourselves
out in back of the house
on New York Avenue
in Union City New Jersey
to the singing of the streetcars
after the story
of Noah whom nobody
believed about the waters
that would rise over everything
when I told my father
I wanted us to build
an ark of our own there
in the back yard under
the kitchen could we do that
he told me that we could
I want to I said and will we
he promised me that we would
why did he promise that
I wanted us to start then
nobody will believe us
I said that we are building
an ark because the rains
are coming and that was true
nobody ever believed
we would build an ark there
nobody would believe
that the waters were coming

W.S. Merwin, 90 later this year, began his writing career at the age of five by writing hymns for his father, who was a Presbyterian minister. ("I was very disappointed that they weren’t used in church"). His first book, A Mask for Janus, was chosen by W.H. Auden in 1952 for the Yale Younger Poets series. He has lived in Majorca, London, France, Mexico, as well as the United States; in 1976, Merwin moved to Hawaii to study with Robert Aitken, the Zen Buddhist teacher, and he now lives on Maui with his wife Paula. In his 1987 Paris Review interview he tells Ed Hirsch: "Writing poetry is never a wholly deliberate act over which you have complete control. It’s important to recognize that writing is at the disposition of all sorts of forces, some of which you don’t know anything at all about. You can describe them as parts of your own psyche, if you like, they probably are, but there are lots of other ways of describing them that are as good, or better—the muses, or the collective unconscious. More suggestive and so, in a way, more accurate. Any means of invoking these forces is good, as far as I’m concerned."

No comments: