U. S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin Talks with Librarians about Reading

By Venziale, Marcella | American Libraries, January-February 2011 | Go to article overview

U. S. Poet Laureate W. S. Merwin Talks with Librarians about Reading


Venziale, Marcella, American Libraries


Before assuming his post as U.S. Poet Laureate on October 25, two-time Pulitzer Prize winner W. S. Merwin met with a select group of librarians at New York City's Poets House for an afternoon of reading and conversation. A nonprofit organization, Poets House hosted the event as part of "One City, Many Poems," a discussion series--and offshoot of its library-oriented Poetry in the Branches program-that brings librarians and poets together for discussions on verse.

The librarians steered the conversation, which ranged from environmental preservation, to introducing children to poetry, to the act of reading poetry." People who say they can't understand poetry come at it from the wrong angle," Merwin told the roughly 40 librarians. "Understanding comes after."

The message resonated with Gabriella Radujko, an information services librarian at New Jersey's Oradell Free Public Library and a published poet herself. Poetry is "not easily understood and that's the point," she said.

"You hear poetry with your whole body. Poetry is physical," Merwin said. "Poetry begins by listening and hearing, not knowing and understanding." Merwin noted children's innate receptivity to poetry, and commended Poets House's youth programs, which have attracted some 4,000 students on class trips since the organization opened its Battery Park City location last year.

"The marvelous thing is that you have these children's programs, too, so that you bring people up with poetry," he said.

Merwin began writing short hymns and verses as a child, but selected from his local library "books of legends and myths and things like that. And I read novels, stories about adventure." At the age of 13. his mother gave him a volume of Joseph Conrad's works, which influenced his writing. As a Princeton student, Merwin "spent lots, all of the time in the library."

Libraries and institutions such as Poets House, with their open stacks, keep the art alive and "wake people up to poetry," Merwin said. …

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