W. S. Merwin
W. S. Merwin: In memoriam
by Brian Cullman
My parents had dinner with Robert Frost once. They said he stared at his lamb chops angrily, stopped, fixed his eyes on them, and then turned his attention back to his plate. And though it was always a wonderful shock to see WH Auden trundling over to Gem Spa to buy the Sunday papers, I had no interest in getting to know him. And I can’t imagine Sylvia Plath was great fun at dinner parties. But I wish I’d known WS Merwin. His work was formidable, but he wasn’t….though even in age, he was beautiful. And his physical beauty, his presence, seemed entwined with his poetry.
I saw him give a reading in Providence. He’s probably the only poet I’ve ever met who looked like a poet. Most look like bartenders or accountants. He had such a stillness about him, as if he was waiting for lost words to creep out of the shadows and come to him. And they did.
His poems seemed effortless, weightless, as if they’d written themselves; they felt like part of a very personal conversation he was having with himself, and we were lucky enough to be nearby, lucky enough to be able to eavesdrop.
He spoke his poems, there was no sense of drama or artifice, he was casual, but specific, as if he were giving directions to the nearest subway.
Merwin lived in the Dordogne for a long time and restored an old stone farmhouse there, not far from the old farmhouse we have, deep in the countryside, near to Fleurac.
How wonderful it would have been to have him as a neighbor. To borrow watering cans and typewriter ribbons. And words.
William Stanley Merwin was an American poet who wrote over fifty books of poetry and prose, and produced many works in translation. During the 1960s anti-war movement, Merwin’s unique craft was thematically characterized by indirect, unpunctuated narration.
About the author:
Brian Cullman is a musician, producer and writer living in New York City.