United States Poet Laureate (2010-2011)
Photo Courtesy of Shabda Kahn
In a career spanning five decades, W.S. Merwin, poet, translator, and environmental activist, has become one of the most widely read — and imitated — poets in America. The son of a Presbyterian minister, for whom he began writing hymns at the age of five, Merwin went to Europe as a young man and developed a love of languages that led to work as a literary translator. Over the years, his poetic voice has moved from the more formal and medieval—influenced somewhat by Robert Graves and the medieval poetry he was then translating — to a more distinctly American voice, following his two years in Boston where he got to know Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Adrienne Rich, and Donald Hall, all of whom were breaking out of the rhetoric of the 1950s. W.S. Merwin's recent poetry is perhaps his most personal, arising from his deeply held beliefs. He is not only profoundly anti-imperialist, pacifist, and environmentalist, but also possessed by an intimate feeling for landscape and language and the ways in which land and language interflow. His latest poems are densely imagistic and full of an intimate awareness of the natural world.
In 1999, W.S. Merwin was named Poetry Consultant to the Library of Congress for a jointly-held position along with poets Rita Dove and Louise Glück. He has been honored as laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings Festival in Macedonia, receiving the international poetry award, the Golden Wreath Award. In the fall of 2004, Merwin received the 2004 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award. Included in his numerous awards are the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the Tanning Prize, the Bollingen Prize, and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. In July 2010, William Merwin was appointed United States Poet Laureate by the Librarian of Congress. He lives, writes, and gardens in Hawaii, on the island of Maui. He has spent the last 30 years planting 19 acres with over 800 species of palm, creating a sustainable forest — the property has recently been turned into a conservancy, the Merwin Conservancy.