Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin Reading at the Library of Congress

I’m still a little star-struck by living in Washington, D.C. Sure, there are the politicians, but there is also the Library of Congress and its poetry programs. Last night I heard W. S. Merwin read for the first time as U.S. Poet Laureate.

Merwin’s attention to nature and life in all forms causes listeners to slow down to his voice’s pace. Merwin opened with, “Poetry represents something in this country not often represented. There is an essential relationship between poetry and the world, that is source and sustenance.” A long-time poetry translator, he is moved by the possibility of language in many languages. English language poetry wouldn’t be what it is today without translation.

While most of Merwin’s poems could be called “nature poems,” he quoted Lichtenstein who said, “the only real theme of all poets throughout life is ‘homecoming.’” Merwin’s attention to human ability to speak, reason and act illuminates not only our humanity, but our possibility as humans.

The reading was following by a wine and cheese reception in the Great Hall. Paintings, mosaics, stained glass windows and views of the Capital building reminded me of visiting European palaces. I encourage you to see the space for yourselves. There are two Library of Congress buildings and the Thomas Jefferson Building is particularly ornate. Here you can take your own virtual tours of the Great Hall, and the amazing Main Reading Room.

I look forward to taking an actual tour and writing in the ornate, wood-paneled Main Reading Room.When you walk up to the building, don’t miss the view of the Capital building behind you. The Library of Congress offers poetry resources, reading series, webcasts and more.

For more on last night’s reading, read Andilit’s rumination on Merwin’s softness in his poems. Read his bio along with sample poems, translation and prose on the Academy of American Poet’s website.

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