Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Poetry Pulitzer Goes to W. S. Merwin

Here's the celebratory press release from Merwin's publisher, Copper Canyon Press:

W.S. Merwin Awarded the Pulitzer Prize for The Shadow of Sirius

Port Townsend, WA—W.S. Merwin has been awarded the 2009 Pulitzer Prize for his most recent book of poetry, The Shadow of Sirius, published by Copper Canyon Press. The $10,000 cash award honors the best book of poetry published by an American during the given year. The prizes were established in 1917 as an incentive to excellence in journalism and the arts.

“It is an honor to publish William Merwin’s poetry,” Said Michael Wiegers, Executive Director of Copper Canyon Press, “and we couldn’t do it without the support of the donors and other poets who make Copper Canyon Press possible. We are thrilled by the recognition another Pulitzer brings to the organization and are pleased that we’ve been a part of William’s most recent awards. This critical recognition helps to further our mission of fostering the work of poets at every stage in their career.”

The Shadow of Sirius, which was featured on NPR’s “Fresh Air” and “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS, is Merwin’s twenty-fifth book of poems. The book is divided into three sections engaging the reader in an exploration of memory’s time continuum: the first focuses on childhood, the center is written as a series of elegies to dogs, and a third centers on the later years of life. The poems comprise Merwin’s grief, pain, wonder, and awe; they are some of the most plainly biographical of his career.
A Codex

It was a late book given up for lost
again and again with its sentences

bare at last and phrases that seemed transparent
revealing what had been there the whole way

the poems of daylight after the day
lying open at last on the table

without explanation or emphasis
like sounds left when the syllables have gone

clarifying the whole grammar of waiting
not removing one question from the air

or closing the story although single lights
were beginning by then above and below

while the long twilight deepened its silence
from sapphire through opal to Athena’s iris

until shadow covered the gray pages
the comet words the book of presences

after which there was little left to say
but then it was night and everything was known

In reviewing the book, Helen Vendler wrote in the New York Review of Books, “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.” Library Journal notes the poems “feel fresh and awake with a simplicity that can only be called wisdom.”

Over the last fifty years, Merwin’s muse has led him beyond the formal verse of his early years to revolutionary open forms that engage a vast array of influences and possibilities. He has received nearly every major literary award, including the Pulitzer Prize in 1971 and, most recently, the 2005 National Book Award for his selected poems, Migration, and the 2007 Bobbitt Award from the Library of Congress for Present Company, both published by Copper Canyon Press.
[photo above by Michael Amsler]

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