On Being Ten Feet from W.S. Merwin…

Today, I was living the poetry dream – riding the poetry wave, listening to the poetry song of the wind as it came through the Oaks, and red of North Carolina State University Titmus Theatre.  (I’m getting a little blubbery).  As I said on twitter, “Today I got to be one of fifteen people on an hour Q&A with W.S. Merwin, I didn’t shit my pants, but it was possible.”   This is like every young, fresh from the spit, poets dream.  To sit in the front row of a red-curtained theatre with a two-time Pulitzer Prize Winner, a National Book Award Winner, and also the current Poet Laureate, which makes him the current President of Poetry, in my book.  (All he needs is a sparkly pin striped in poetry colors: greens and peaches no doubt).  I’m still in shock, if you can’t tell.  I also took way too many pages of notes that I can’t even decipher because I was scribbling so fast to take down every word.  (It was a black rollerball so my outdoor pinky is sun-screened in shiny black and my fingers are cramping up, suddenly in bed).  The master’s student next to me was recording on her phone because she’s smarter than me and the Iphone rules the world.  She also didn’t awkwardly drop her pen cap on the ground while he was speaking, reach down and hide it in her boot.  This is why people don’t invite me to things.

Merwin is what you’d imagine any eighty-four year old wizard to be (more Gandolph than Dumbledore).  He has a white comb-over, rain-puddle blue eyes and walks with a this-goes-on-the-sidewalk-but-also-in-the-street stride.  He wore his sunglasses, inside, in case any of you are wondering if that’s a fashion faux pa, it has just become something acceptable in our society with his beginning of it.  (Plus, you can always change the song lyrics to “I wear my sunglasses inside, so I can…so I can..”)  I just imagine him in a literal abode, in Italy, grooming horses and talking to the breeze of his family members passed.  I can’t help it.  However, he lives in Maui, grooming pineapples and talking to the breeze of the salt instead (I think all Island folk do this).

Going in, I thought he was going to be snobby  (because I always judge people and situations before I’m actually in them).  He has sixty years of book-filled poetry under his belt, hand-held pocket notebooks hiding under his buttoned sweater, hands wrinkled with veins full of ink pen and he, basically, trumps us (us poets, us want-to-be word doctors).  Unlike the generation before him, he managed to live past the years when it wasn’t cool yet to write about regrets, death, old age, growing old, remaining.  (He also didn’t off himself, which I’m thankful for, because I regret daily the offings of Plath and Sexton.  I wish Sexton was a chain-smoking old hag in a hospital with my grandmother Dolly and I wish Plath was my neighbor who baked cookies she assaulted with butter and kitchen utensils).  And now, here he is, writing about his memories, about childhood at eighty-three, about his family, giving me something to share with my aging father, and something he’s shared with the World-at-large (whatever that means).

Pulitzer Prize, 2009

When he won the National Book Award in 2005, the commitee had this to say: “Merwin’s poems speak from a lifelong belief in the power of words to awaken our drowsy souls and see the world with compassionate interconnection” (Full Story & Poems from NPR).  He’s essentially the people’s poet.  He’s been through too many wars, too many people, too many poems, too many words, too many notebooks, too many dining room table talks where his wife Paula, cracks coconuts and reads his poetry (in my mind, all in my loopy mind).  I mean, the man…IS poetry.

I can’t even write this blog I’m too excited.

And I can’t even read my notes to tell you anything interesting, or insightful the man had to say.

All I can tell you is, he tries to plant one tree a day.  (He’s like a real life Lorax).  Because a tree lives and dies in one spot.  It is the sole creation of a place.  A lot of his poetry deals with place, and location, and because of that, and his ideals towards any sort of conservation (and gardening, which gives me the cutest mental image), he has decided to plant (or try at least) one tree a day.

In twenty years, I hope I have children who sit under a W.S. Merwin tree eating their picnic watermelon and spitting seeds in the ground.  I hope we’re on a checkered blanket and I have a large dog who knows how to catch a frisbee, and poetry is humid in the air.

5 thoughts on “On Being Ten Feet from W.S. Merwin…

  1. Bea Mannes says:

    First, I read this to your Father, and his comment is as follows. “She is really something else! If she could only get it out in the public domain someway, so people could read her.” I believe that means he especially liked this blog.
    There were many great quotes I could copy and paste on Facebook for the family to read, but I took just a small piece of the blog. I took the beginning, the part about almost messing in your pants. I just knew the “Buffalo” family would read that and know how excited you were to meet this poet.
    I hope he is one of many you meet along the way, and I look forward to the blogs that will come from those meet and greets. It is obvious, your love of poetry, and how it is like breathing for you.

  2. Audra (Unabridged Chick) says:

    Wonderful post — I loved this — but I esp adored your comments on Sexton and Plath. Having seen Emma Donoghue earlier in the summer, in which I was a total crazyperson, I can imagine your excitement at being so close to Merwin.

    • Cassie says:

      Ouuuu I would be excited for Emma as well! Did you write about it? Send me the link if so! And thanks for your comments. We must have a mutual thing for Plath and Sexton

      • Audra (Unabridged Chick) says:

        Here’s the post about going to Donoghue’s reading — don’t judge me for the insane fangirl grin in the picture — I was shaking being so close to the woman! Heaven!

        I’m mad for both Plath and Sexton because they’re marvelous but I feel a lot of sympathy/solidarity for most women authors/creators b/c I feel like they can get such a raw deal, but that is a rant for another day!! :)

  3. Cassie says:

    That. was. excellent. I love her deep red hair. Amazing! And you looked so happy & cute!!!

    It seems we both have a Plath & Sexton obsession. I’ll have to read “Hood” by Emma since I haven’t. Is it wonderful?

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