I don’t mind the idea of an official Poet Laureate, though I’m well aware it can be a bit of a death knell for a poetic career. I wonder who’d be Australia’s choice over the years?: Henry Lawson, Christopher Brennan?, Kenneth Slessor?, A.D.Hope might have been fine for the time, Judith Wright the environmental poetic warrior, Les Murray probably.
This came to mind as I read in this NY Times article that W.S. Merwin had been appointed Poet Laureate of the USA. He’s not a poet I know much about so I’m going to be interested in finding out a bit more about him. The article sums up some of his career in this way:
At 18 he sought out the advice of Ezra Pound, who told him to write 75 lines every day. Pound also suggested taking up poetry translation to learn what could be done with language — advice that Mr. Merwin followed.
He attended Princeton University on scholarship, studying with the critic R. P. Blackmur, who he has called “a kind of mentor and parent,” and John Berryman, who he said was one of the brightest people he ever met. He has said that he used his initials because doing so seemed serious and adult, in the manner of T. S. Eliot and W. H. Auden.
From his earliest scribblings, Mr. Merwin has had a conception of poetry that is strongly tied to music. “It’s close to the oral tradition,” he said. “It’s close to song. You have to hear it before you can understand it.” His first collection, “A Mask for Janus,” was selected for the Yale Younger Poets Prize by Auden, whose style of long unspooling sentences had influenced the novice’s own verse.
In the 1960s he began writing poems without any punctuation, and later, without capital letters, except for the beginning. “I came to feel that punctuation was like nailing the words onto the page,” he once explained. “I wanted instead the movement and lightness of the spoken word.”
Mr. Merwin came to wider attention for his hard-edged political allegories that condemned the Vietnam War and environmental destruction, starting with his 1967 collection, “The Lice.”