April 10, 2003
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Editor's note: For a 300-dpi digitized
photo of Merwin, call (413)585-2190.
Distinguished Poet and Translator
W. S. Merwin to Read at Smith College
NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- Smith College
will present a poetry reading by distinguished poet and translator
W. S. Merwin at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday, April 29, in Wright Hall
The reading is free, open to the public and wheelchair accessible
and will be followed by a book-signing and -selling.
Merwin began his life in poetry at age five, writing hymns
for his minister father's Presbyterian services. Author of 18
books of poetry, five books of prose, and translator of 20 works
of European and Asian languages, Merwin has been awarded most
of the major prizes in American letters, including the Yale Series
of Younger Poets Award (1952, for a "A Mask for Janus"),
the Pulitzer Prize (1970, for "The Carrier of Ladders"),
the Bollingen Prize and the first Tanning Prize for mastery in
the art of poetry.
As a Princeton graduate in the 1950s, Merwin traveled in western
Europe, finding his affinity for translation while tutoring Robert
Graves' son in Majorca. His translation work has ranged widely,
from "The Song of Roland" to Euripedes to the poetry
of Russian Osip Mandelstam to Neruda's "Twenty Love Poems
and a Song of Despair." Recipient of the 1968 PEN Translation
Prize for his "Selected Translations," Merwin's more
recent translations include "East Window (The Asian Translations),"
collections by Jaime Sabines, Roberto Juarroz, Muso Soseki,
and Dante's "Purgatorio."
The influence of Graves and Blake are evident in the formalism
and mythological themes of Merwin's own early work. By the 1960s,
though, with "The Moving Target" and "The Lice,"
he was experimenting with metrical irregularity and "open
forms," creating the signature form of enjambment and syntactic
suspension that has allowed him to dispense with punctuation
entirely, even in recent long narrative poems.
A typical Merwin poem -- easily identifiable and widely imitated
-- is elusive, enigmatic and often disquieting. Merwin's varied
and prolific literary career is entwined with his pacifist, anti-imperialist,
environmentalist values and activism. Merwin has a "talent
for the desolate and dismembered," writes the critic Helen
Vendler. "He is one of the voices singing out of empty cisterns
and exhausted wells ... finding his hollow divinities."
In poems marked by a severe and tenuous beauty, Merwin explores
human perception and the capacity of language to express experience;
he ponders the passage of time, the unreliability of memory,
and man's perplexity in the face of a troubled planet. As the
poet Peter Davison writes, he "engages the underground stream
of our lives."
Merwin lives in Hawaii where he keeps a garden of rare and endangered
This reading is supported by the Poetry
Center and Lecture Committee of Smith College and dedicated to
the memory of Sylvia K. Burack '38, an early and generous supporter
of the Poetry Center, who died this past February.
For more information, contact Cindy
Furtek in the Poetry Center office at (413) 585-4891 or Ellen
Doré Watson, director, at (413) 585-3368.