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).
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.