Archive for the ‘U.S. Poet Laureate’ Category

For The Anniversary Of My Death

Every year without knowing it I have passed the day
When the last fires will wave to me
And the silence will set out
Tireless traveller
Like the beam of a lightless star

Then I will no longer
Find myself in life as in a strange garment
Surprised at the earth
And the love of one woman
And the shamelessness of men
As today writing after three days of rain
Hearing the wren sing and the falling cease
And bowing not knowing to what
W.S. Merwin (born 1927)

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W.S. Merwin (born 1927) won the Pulitzer for his book The Shadow of Sirius. He is serving currently as U.S. Poet Laureate. Other Pulitzer finalists in 2009 were Ruth Stone (born 1915) for her book What Love Comes To: New & Selected Poems and Frank Bidart (born 1939) for his book Watching the Spring Festival.

Good People

From the kindness of my parents
I suppose it was that I held
that belief about suffering

imagining that if only
it could come to the attention
of any person with normal
feelings certainly anyone
literate who might have gone

to college they would comprehend
pain when it went on before them
and would do something about it
whenever they saw it happen
in the time of pain the present
they would try to stop the bleeding
for example with their own hands

but it escapes their attention
or there may be reasons for it
the victims under the blankets
the meat counters the maimed children
the animals the animals
staring from the end of the world

Boy Scout Council to Honor West Side Youth

The caption of this Sept. 21, 1942 article reads: William Merwin, fifteen, son of Dr. and Mrs. William S. Merwin of 1115 Washburn Street will be made an eagle scout at the morning service of the Washburn Street Presbyterian Church of which his father is pastor, Sunday, Sept. 27, when the badge of an eagle scout will awarded him by Col. E.H. Ripple.

Scout Merwin will appear at a public session of the Court of Honor of the Scranton Council Friday, Sept. 25, at the Technical High School when he will be examined.

He is a member of Troop No. 11 of the Washburn Street Church of which Russell Rome is scoutmaster. He is a graduate of the Sophomore Class, West Scranton Junior High School and last term was awarded a bronze medal for extra curriculum and leadership. He is now a junior at Wyoming Seminary, Kingston. The candidate was outstanding at the Boy Scout camp at Goose Pond during the past Summer having been appointed an instructor and passed the proficiency tests as a life guard. He also made a fifty-mile hike. He will be the first eagle scout in his troop under the leadership of Mr. Rome.

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Meditations At Lagunitas
by Robert Hass

All the new thinking is about loss.
In this it resembles all the old thinking.
The idea, for example, that each particular erases
the luminous clarity of a general idea. That the clown-
faced woodpecker probing the dead sculpted trunk
of that black birch is, by his presence,
some tragic falling off from a first world
of undivided light. Or the other notion that,
because there is in this world no one thing
to which the bramble of blackberry corresponds,
a word is elegy to what it signifies.
We talked about it late last night and in the voice
of my friend, there was a thin wire of grief, a tone
almost querulous. After a while I understood that,
talking this way, everything dissolves: justice,
pine, hair, woman, you and I. There was a woman
I made love to and I remembered how, holding
her small shoulders in my hands sometimes,
I felt a violent wonder at her presence
like a thirst for salt, for my childhood river
with its island willows, silly music from the pleasure boat,
muddy places where we caught the little orange-silver fish
called pumpkinseed. It hardly had to do with her.
Longing, we say, because desire is full
of endless distances. I must have been the same to her.
But I remember so much, the way her hands dismantled bread,
the thing her father said that hurt her, what
she dreamed. There are moments when the body is as numinous
as words, days that are the good flesh continuing.
Such tenderness, those afternoons and evenings,
saying blackberry, blackberry, blackberry.

Talking to Ourselves 
by Philip Schultz

A woman in my doctor’s office last week
couldn’t stop talking about Niagara Falls,
the difference between dog and deer ticks,
how her oldest boy, killed in Iraq, would lie
with her at night in the summer grass, singing
Puccini. Her eyes looked at me but saw only
the saffron swirls of the quivering heavens.

Yesterday, Mr. Miller, our tidy neighbor,
stopped under our lopsided maple to explain
how his wife of sixty years died last month
of Alzheimer’s. I stood there, listening to
his longing reach across the darkness with
each bruised breath of his eloquent singing.

This morning my five-year-old asked himself
why he’d come into the kitchen. I understood
he was thinking out loud, personifying himself,
but the intimacy of his small voice was surprising.

When my father’s vending business was failing,
he’d talk to himself while driving, his lips
silently moving, his black eyes deliquescent.
He didn’t care that I was there, listening,
what he was saying was too important.

“Too important,” I hear myself saying
in the kitchen, putting the dishes away,
and my wife looks up from her reading
and asks, “What’s that you said?”
The 2008 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry was awarded to both Robert Hass (born 1941) for his book Time and Materials and Philip Schultz (born 1945) for his book Failure. Hass served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 1995 to 1997. Ellen Bryant Voigt (born 1943) was also a Pulitzer finalist in 2008 for her book Messenger: New and Selected Poems, 1976-2006.

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Ted Kooser (born 1939) won the Pulitzer for his book Delights & Shadows. He served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2004 to 2006. Other Pulitzer finalists in 2005 were William Matthews for his book Search Party: Collected Poems and Brigit Pegeen Kelly for her book The Orchard.

The following poem is from Kooser’s book Delights & Shadows and the excerpt is from his book The Poetry Home Repair Manual, Practical Advice for Beginning Poets, published in 2005.

Screech Owl

All night each reedy whinny
from a bird no bigger than a heart
flies out of a tall black pine
and, in a breath, is taken away
by the stars. Yet, with small hope
from the center of darkness,
it calls out again and again.

A Career As A Poet?

You’ll never be able to make a living writing poems. We’d better get this money business out of the way before we go any further. I don’t want you to have any illusions. You might make a living as a teacher of poetry writing or as a lecturer about poetry, but writing poems won’t go very far toward paying your electric bill. A poem published in one of the very best literary magazines in the country might net you a check for enough money to buy half a sack of groceries. The chances are much better that all you’ll receive, beside the pleasure of seeing your poem in print, are a couple of copies of the magazine, one to keep and one to show to your mother. You might get a letter or postcard from a grateful reader, always a delightful surprise. But look at it this way: Any activity that’s worth lots of money, like professional basketball, comes with rules pinned all over it. In poetry, the only rules thinking about are the standards of perfection you set for yourself.

There’s no money in poetry because most of my neighbors, and most of yours, don’t have any use for it. If, at a neighborhood yard sale, you happened to find the original handwritten manuscript of T.S. Eliot’s The Waste Land, you could take it to every quick shop in the city and you wouldn’t find a single person who would trade you ten gallons of gas for it.

Part of the reason for our country’s lack of interest in poetry is that most of us learned in school that finding the meaning of a poem is way too much work, like cracking a walnut and digging out the meat. Most readers have plenty to do that’s far more interesting that puzzling over poems. I’ll venture that 99 percent of the people who read the New Yorker prefer the cartoons to the poems.

A lot of resistance to poetry is to be blamed on poets. Some go out of their way to make their poems difficult if not downright discouraging. That may be because difficult poems are what they think they’re expected to write to advance their careers. They know it’s the professional interpreters of poetry — book reviewers and literary critics — who most often establish a poet’s reputation, and that those interpreters are attracted to poems that offer opportunities to show off their skills at interpretation….

My teacher and mentor, Karl Shapiro, once pointed out that the poetry of twentieth century was the first poetry that had to be taught. He might have said that had to be explained. I believe with all my heart that it’s a virtue to show our appreciation for readers by writing with kindness, generosity, and humility toward them….

One other point: Isaac Newton attributed his accomplishments to standing on the shoulders of giants. He meant great thinkers who had gone before. Accordingly, beginning poets sometimes start off trying to stand on the shoulders of famous poets, imitating the difficult and obscure poems those successful poets have published. That’s understandable, but they soon learn that, somehow, no literary journal is interested in publishing their difficult poems. If these beginners were to study the careers of the famous poets upon whose work they’re modeling their own, they’d find that those writers were often, in their early careers, publishing clear, understandable poems. In most instances, only after establishing reputations could they go on to write in more challenging ways. In a sense they earned the right to do so by first attracting an audience of readers, editors, and publishers with less difficult poems.

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The Idea
for Nolan Miller
For us, too, there was a wish to possess
Something beyond the world we knew, beyond ourselves,
Beyond our power to imagine, something nevertheless
In which we might see ourselves; and this desire
Came always in passing, in waning light, and in such cold
That ice on the valley’s lakes cracked and rolled,
And blowing snow covered what earth we saw,
And scenes from the past, when they surfaced again,
Looked not as they had, but ghostly and white
Among false curves and hidden erasures;
And never once did we feel we were close
Until the night wind said, “Why do this,
Especially now? Go back to the place you belong;”
And there appeared , with its windows glowing, small,
In the distance, in the frozen reaches, a cabin;
And we stood before it, amazed at its being there,
And would have gone forward and opened the door,
And stepped into the glow and warmed ourselves there,
But that it was ours by not being ours,
And should remain empty. That was the idea.
by Mark Strand (born 1934). He won the Pulitzer for his book Blizzard of One. Other Pulitzer finalists in 1999 were Alice Notley for her book Mysteries of Small Houses and Frederick Seidel for his book Going Fast.

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On July 1, William Stanley Merwin (born 1927) became the country’s 17th poet laureate. Merwin has published more than 30 books of poetry, translation and prose and won two Pulitzer prizes for The Shadow of Sirius in 2009 and for The Lice in 1971, as well as the National Book Award in 2005 for Migration: New and Selected Poems.

Since 1976, he has lived on a former pineapple plantation on the northeast coast of Maui and cultivated more than 700 endangered species of indigenous plants, including a palm tree he helped save from extinction.

Here is a poem from his book Writings to an Unfinished Accompaniment, published in 1973:

Something I’ve Not Done

Something I’ve not done
is following me
I haven’t done it again and again
so it has many footsteps
like a drumstick that’s grown old and never been used

In late afternoon I hear it come close
at times it climbs out of a sea
onto my shoulders
and I shrug it off
losing one more chance

Every morning
it’s drunk up part of my breath for the day
and knows which way
I’m going
and already it’s not done there

But once more I say I’ll lay hands on it
and add its footsteps to my heart
and its story to my regrets
and its silence to my compass

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