Merwin Wins 2nd Pulitzer for Poetry

Poetry News: W.S. Merwin wins Second Pulitzer Prize (from Art Predator)

W.S. Merwin“With no punctuation and a solitary launching capital letter, Merwin’s elegant poems are built to the measure of breath and sweep the page like palm fronds. Yet each word is old, lustrous, and solid. Only a poet as seasoned as Merwin can wrest so much meaning from dark, moon, wake, river, and song.”

For a distinguished volume of original verse by an American author, Ten thousand dollars ($10,000).

Awarded to “The Shadow of Sirius,” by W. S. Merwin (Copper Canyon Press), a collection of luminous, often tender poems that focus on the profound power of memory.

So states the Pulitzer Prize citation for W.S. Merwin,  a pacifist well-known for his anti-war poetry. Merwin has published over 20 books of poetry and almost 20 books of translation. He won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for The Carrier Of Ladders. Known in the 1960s as an anti-war poet, Merwin is now an environmental activist who speaks out about restoring the rain forests of Hawaii.

One of my favorite living American authors, Merwin won his second Pulitzer Prize on Monday April 20–the man who Ezra Pound said had nothing to write about! That was back when he was 18; Pound suggested that he translate other poets to develop his craft and write 75 lines every day. He tells that story here and reads a poem for his wife, Paula:

In the early 90s, I stumbled across his collection The Lice (1973) in a small musty used book store in downtown Los Altos near Stanford. I wish I knew the woman who owned the book before me; I suspect it was a woman’s book, her miniscule carefully penciled notes illuminating the manuscript and her life and mine. I hold in my hands remnants of her life as well, remnants she left stuck in the book: a youthful picture of Merwin, cut to follow the intricate border from its newsprint magazine home. It rests between the poems “”Whenever I Go There” and “Wish.” Tucked between the leaves I also marvel at a request for a book by Tu-fu Yu, Chinese characters penciled in, information on the text typed in triplicate charcoal. I traveled with that slim volume  in my van for years,  there along with Marianne Moore’s O to Be a Dragon, grounding me and comforting me in my restlessness and homelessness, with my struggles with memory.

Here’s “The Waves,” one of my favorite poems by W.S. Merwin from The Lice:

I inhabited the wake of a long wave

As we sank it continued to rush past me
I knew where it had been
The light was full of salt and the air
Was heavy with crying for where the wave had come from
And why

It had brought them
From faces that soon were nothing but rain

Over the photographs they carried with them
The white forests
Grew impenetrable
but as for themselves
They felt the sand slide from
Their roots of water

The harbors with outstretched arms retreated along
Glass corridors then
Were gone then their shadows were gone then the
Corridors were gone

Envelopes came each enfolding a little chalk
I inhabited the place where they opened them

I inhabited the sound of hope walking on water
Losing its way in the
Crowd so many footfalls of snow

I inhabit the sound of their pens on boxes
Writing to the dead in

I in habit their wrappings sending back darkness
And the sinking of their voices entering
Nowhere as the wave passes

And asking where next as it breaks

So back in the mid 90s, when I heard he’d be reading at UCLA Hammer Museum,  I slipped in from the afternoon LA traffic to sit near the front on the cool floor leaning against the wall, amazed at his vitality, his rich, sonorous, melodic, gracious voice, and his shock of white hair. I stood in line to meet him and shake his hand but neglected to bring my book to have him sign it.

I heard him read April 13, 2006 at UCSB in packed Campbell Hall, hundreds of fans there, and lined up after the reading to get him to sign books. I had him sign the page for “Waves of August” in my hardback copy of his National Book Award winner, the massive  Migration which collects much of his life’s work. I told him that I remembered the moment I first read the poem in The New Yorker. It stunned me. It stuns me still.

Waves in August by W.S. Merwin

There is a war in the distance
with the distance growing smaller
the field glasses lying at hand
are for keeping it far away

I thought I was getting better
about that returning childish
wish to be living somewhere else
that I knew was impossible
and now I find myself wishing
to be here to be alive here
it is impossible enough
to still be the wish of a child

in youth I hid a boat under
the bushes beside the water
knowing I would want it later
and come back and would find it there
someone else took it and left me
instead the sound of the water
with its whisper of vertigo

terror reassurance an old
old sadness it would seem we knew
enough always about parting
but we have to go on learning
as long as there is anything

I don’t have the new book–yet. But here’s an excerpt from a review of it:

“Merwin…wants to reproduce something important about consciousness that is lost both in conventional punctuating and spacing….The most salient aspect of the Merwin mind in meditation is its tenacity to its perplexity. Nothing can interrupt it once it has located its chosen difficulty—whether in perception, in thought, in human relations, or in memory. The Shadow of Sirius eddies around such difficulties, each a stone in its current….In his personal anonymity, his strict individuated manner, his defense of the earth, and his heartache at time’s passing, Merwin has become instantly recognizable on the page; he has made for himself that most difficult of creations, an accomplished style.”

—Helen Vendler, The New York Review of Books

The media’s celebrated his win with numerous stories. Here are a few of them:

Fresh Air from WHYY, April 21, 2009 · W.S. Merwin won his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry on April 20 for The Shadow Of Sirius. In a 2008 interview, Merwin read a few of his poems and talked about memory, mortality and acceptance in his poetry.

Merwin has published over 20 books of poetry and almost 20 books of translation. He won his first Pulitzer Prize in 1971 for The Carrier Of Ladders. Known in the 1960s as an anti-war poet, Merwin is now an environmental activist who speaks out about restoring the rain forests of Hawaii.

Union City native WS Merwin wins Pulitzer Prize for poetry – NJ,USA
Today, he was named the 2009 Pulitzer Prize winner for poetry. It was just a few weeks ago that I found myself standing under WS Merwin’s name at the intersection of New York Avenue and Fourth Street in Union City, begins John Gomez For The Jersey Journal.

Port Townsend publisher home of Pulitzer winnerSeattle Post Intelligencer – USA

Monday’s announcement that WS Merwin won the 2009 Pulitzer prize for poetry marked the second time that an author published by Copper Canyon Press has won.

Later the article states:

Merwin, an 81-year-old poet from New York, said that Copper Canyon’s sole focus on poetry was one of the reasons he went to the small publisher.

“I liked the way Copper Canyon approached the whole thing,” he said from his home in Hawaii. “Their emphasis is entirely poetry. If you’re with one of the big publishing houses, the books are beautiful, but it’s not their main thing.”

This year’s prize marked the second time Merwin had been honored with a Pulitzer. In 1971, he won for “The Carrier of Ladders” and refused to accept the prize money in protest of the Vietnam War. This time, he’ll mark the day more quietly, celebrating with his dog while his wife is out of town.


“The very best of all Merwin: I have been reading William since 1952, and always with joy.”
—Harold Bloom

“[Merwin’s] best book in a decade—and one of the best outright…. The poems…feel fresh and awake with a simplicy that can only be called wisdom.”
—Publishers Weekly

“In his characteristic, contemplative way, Merwin offers simple lines of unpunctuated verse in an incantatory flow, almost hypnotic, like waves washing a beach…. The apparent simplicity of Merwin’s verse is well-earned rather than casual.”
—The Seattle Times

“The experience of coming to realize the nature of ‘the shadow’ through its various manifestations, slowly revealed, poem by seemingly innocuous poem, until one must go back and reread those poems with new eyes, is remarkable.”
—Eclectica Magazine

“It all happens at once: a self-contained burst of creativity—poet and reader joined in the making of meaning…. In The Shadow of Sirius, [Merwin] openly embraces the past as the source of his art, shaping his most accesible and emotionally satisfying book in years…. In The Shadow of Sirius, Merwin has given to 21st-century poetry what Matisse gave to 20th-century painting with his late-in-life paper cutouts: the irreducible essence of his art.”
—The Wichita Eagle

“[Merwin] shows that beauty is constantly being created, even as it fades and dies.”
—Virginia Quarterly Review

“With no punctuation and a solitary launching capital letter, Merwin’s elegant poems are built to the measure of breath and sweep the page like palm fronds. Yet each word is old, lustrous, and solid. Only a poet as seasoned as Merwin can wrest so much meaning from dark, moon, wake, river, and song.”

“Merwin’s gentle wisdom and attentiveness to the world are alive as ever. These deeply reflective meditations move through light and darkness, old love and turning seasons to probe the core of human experience.”

General comments on W.S. Merwin’s poetry:

“The intentions of [his] poetry are as broad as the biosphere yet as intimate as a whisper. He conveys in the sweet simplicity of grounded language a sense of the self where it belongs, floating between heaven, earth, and underground.”
—The Atlantic Monthly

“It is gratifying to read poetry that is this ambitious, that cares about vision and the possibilities of poetry by a poet who is capable of so much change.”
—The Nation

“W.S. Merwin…has created a body of wisdom literature that is unprecedented in our age. I feel lucky to be alive at a time when W.S. Merwin has been creating his startling and incomparable work.”
—Edward Hirsch

“Although replete with the minimal punctuation and natural imagery that characterizes his past works, these new poems are exceptionally crafted, using spare language to elucidate the march of time and the mix of nostalgia and fear that accompanies growing older….These poems are as evocative and subtly colored as the twilights and timescapes they describe.”
—Rain Taxi

“Quite often in this book I think Merwin transcends time, and he succeeds in actually yoking together his whole life….The now, the past, and the present become one, not just because he says so, but because you can feel it through his use of verbs….Yes, Merwin is still relevant, strong, and uncovering more great poetry for us.”

“…these poems seem both crystallizations and recastings of the poet’s longtime concerns—emptiness, silence, vanishing, the illusion of temporality….If these are winter words, they are animated by an evergreen faith in a communion with the natural world and the promise of its continuation beyond the body.”
—American Poet

“There is an alert simplicity in nearly every poem….The old adage, you learn the rules to break the rules, applies profoundly to Merwin, who has melted the strictures of high art into a thoroughly seamless, unlabored, and seemingly simple poetic style….More than an achievement in poetry, this is an achievement in writing.”
—Harvard Review

Tips for Writing Emails Someone Will Read!

From the Harvard Business Publishing, I found this blog post by David Silverman on how to write an email someone will read. The advice applies to all kinds of writing, however! Read it for yourself here:

How to Revise an Email So That People Will Read It

4:35 PM Tuesday April 14, 2009


“People think that the first draft is the big event and that revision is cleaning up afterward. But the first draft is really setting up the chairs, tables, and cups, and revision isn’t cleaning up after the party, it is the party.”

“All first drafts are terrible. I don’t care if you’re Hemingway.”

“What comes out unfiltered from anyone’s mind is mud.”

The first two quotations come from writing professors whose names I’ve since forgotten (and they were quoting other people whom they’d forgotten). The last one is one I just made up myself. But regardless of the source, the advice is sound: no email should be clicked-to-send without revision.

I’ve found that for your average email, the number of revisions largely depends on the number of recipients. Here’s my experience:

1 to 5 recipients = 2 to 4 revisions
5 to 10 recipients = 8 to 12 revisions
Company-wide or to Executive Committee = 30 to 50 revisions

Even the simplest missive to one person benefits from a couple of extra passes, and if it’s going to the management committee, expect everyone to have changes (and changes to those changes).

Here’s a checklist to consider when revising:

1. Delete redundancies.
Say it once. That’s enough. If you’re repetitive, the reader will stop reading and start skimming. (Like you probably just did.)

2. Use numbers and specifics instead of adverbs and adjectives. “The project is currently way behind schedule on major tasks,” is not as clear as “The project is 3 weeks late delivering hamburger buns to Des Moines.” (If you don’t have numbers, still get rid of the adverbs and adjectives.)

3. Add missing context. Does your reader know that hamburger buns in Iowa are required for the company to collect $37 million? If you’re not sure, remind them.

4. Focus on the strongest argument. Should those hamburger buns get shipped because the delay is embarrassing for the company, because it’s costing children their lunch, or because it’s costing the company tens of millions of dollars? Maybe all three, but one of those reasons (and it depends on your reader) will be enough to get buns on the road.

5. Delete off-topic material. The best emails say one thing and say it clearly. One-subject emails also make it easier for the recipient to file the message once they’ve taken action, something anyone who uses Outlook to manage tasks appreciates.

6. Seek out equivocation and remove it. “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times” works for Dickens, not status reports.

7. Kill your favorites. Is something in your text particularly pithy, amusing, or clever? Chance are, it’s not. If it sticks out, it’s probably a tap-dancing gorilla in boxer shorts — hilarious when you thought of it, embarrassing when it gets in your manager’s inbox.

8. Delete anything written in the heat of emotion. Will this sentence show them who’s been right about the hamburger buns since the beginning? Yes? Cut it.

9. Shorten. Remember the reader struggling to digest your message on the run — a BlackBerry or an iPhone gets about 40 words per screen. What looks short on your desktop monitor is an epic epistle on their mobile device.

10. Give it a day.
With time, what seemed so urgent may no longer need to be said. And one less email is something everyone will thank you for.

Do you agree that even late-night emails sent from the bar should be revised before sending? (Have you ever seen one the next day?) Have you bravely sent something unrevised only to have it come flying back at you? What’s your best advice for revising?

* * *

David Silverman also suggested four tips for penning your first draft, asked, “Why is business writing so bad?” and offered his a list of jargon no self-respecting businessperson should ever use.

5 Writing Tips from Sonia Simone

Sonia-SimoneSonia Simone’s superpower is creating better customer relationships with incredibly effective communication. She’s Senior Editor for Copyblogger, and a big Twitter junkie at @soniasimone, where she says she tweets way, way too much.

Here are 5 of her writing tips:

Professional writers rely on editors to fix their clunks. Like good gardeners, sensitive editors don’t hack away—we prune and gently shape. When we’ve done a great job, the page looks just like it did before, only better. It’s the page the writer intended to write.

Editing, like writing, takes time to learn. But here are five fixes I make with nearly every project. Learn to make them yourself and you’ll take your writing to a more professional, marketable, and persuasive level.
1. Sentences can only do one thing at a time.

Have you ever heard a four-year-old run out of breath before she can finish her thought? I edit a lot of sentences that work the same way. You need a noun, you need a verb, you might need an object. Give some serious thought to stopping right there.

Sentences are building blocks, not bungee cords; they’re not meant to be stretched to the limit. I’m not saying you necessarily want a Hemingway-esque series of clipped short sentences, but most writers benefit from dividing their longest sentences into shorter, more muscular ones.
2. Paragraphs can only do one thing at a time.

A paragraph supports a single idea. Construct complex arguments by combining simple ideas that follow logically. Every time you address a new idea, add a line break. Short paragraphs are the most readable; few should be more than three or four sentences long. This is more important if you’re writing for the Web.
3. Look closely at -ing

Nouns ending in -ing are fine. (Strong writing, IT consulting, great fishing.) But constructions like “I am running,” “a forum for building consensus,” or “The new team will be managing” are inherently weak. Rewrite them to “I run,” “a forum to build consensus,” and “the team will manage.” You’re on the right track when the rewrite has fewer words (see below).

(If for some insane reason you want to get all geeky about this, you can read the Wikipedia article on gerunds and present participles. But you don’t have to know the underlying grammatical rules to make this work. Rewrite -ing when you can, and your writing will grow muscles you didn’t know it had.)
4. Omit unnecessary words.

I know we all heard this in high school, but we weren’t listening. (Mostly because it’s hard.) It’s doubly hard when you’re editing your own writing—we put all that work into getting words onto the page, and by god we need a damned good reason to get rid of them.

Here’s your damned good reason: extra words drain life from your work. The fewer words used to express an idea, the more punch it has. Therefore:

Summer months
Regional level
The entire country
On a daily basis (usually best rewritten to “every day”)
She knew that it was good.
(I just caught one above: four-year-old little girl)

You can nearly always improve sentences by rewriting them in fewer words.
5. Reframe 90% of the passive voice.

French speakers consider an elegantly managed passive voice to be the height of refinement. But here in the good old U.S. (or Australia, Great Britain, etc.), we value action. We do things is inherently more interesting than Things are done by us. Passive voice muddies your writing; when the actor is hidden, the action makes less sense.
Bonus: Use spell-check

There’s no excuse for teh in anything more formal than a Twitter tweet.

Also, “a lot” and “all right” are always spelled as two words. You can trust me, I’m an editor.

Easy reading is damned hard writing.
~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

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