U.S. Poet Laureate to speak at KSU

Nathan Christofaris

W.S. Merwin, poet and environmentalist, will be at Kent State Monday to host two sessions.

Merwin has won two Pulitzer Prizes and is the U.S. Poet Laureate 2010-2011, an honor appointed to him by the Library of Congress. Merwin lives in Maui, Hawaii and is making the trip for what Kent State is calling “Merwin Day.”

A question and answer session will be held at 2 p.m. on the first floor of the University Library and at 7:30 p.m. a poetry reading in the Kent Student Center Ballroom.

David Hassler, director of Wick Poetry Center at Kent State and Ohio Poet of the Year in 2006, helped bring Merwin to Kent State.

“I’m extremely thrilled to be working with the library and Dean Bracken,” Hassler said. “He really is one of the most highly respected living poets, if not the most.”

Merwin is an environmentalist, pacifist and Zen Buddhist. He has worked to restore the rainforest around his home in Hawaii to its original state. His beliefs are often reflected in his work.

“His poetry teaches and encourages us to slow down, which is already a skill we’re losing,” Hassler said. “Slow down, notice, pay attention to our senses (and) truly connect with the world around us. He is a poet who models the engagement of being fully awake to the world.”

Hassler said Merwin is “astonishingly productive” at the age of 84. Merwin had his first work published in 1952, “A Mask for Janus” and has published more than 30 books of poetry.

“He has not slowed down his creative energy by any means,” Hassler said. “Merwin’s work is not so much a career as it is a life. Merwin has lived a long and deeply committed life. I truly believe he is a figure that has wisdom in him.”

Some of Merwin’s poems, prose and translations are being displayed in the library first floor quiet study. Stephanie Tulley, graduate assistant of special collections and archives, helped put together the exhibit. “A Doorway to the Work of W.S. Merwin” lets you see how his work has changed, Tulley said.

“They’ll get to see from a first edition 1952 book clear to a 2009 book,” Tulley said.

“When you’re in college, you’re so young and new, (and) to see that even the best changed and grown overtime is cool.”

Hassler said a lot can be learned from Merwin.

“This is a man who plants a tree and works on a poem every day, working in his own way with both a pen and a shovel,” Hassler said. “By nurturing his own place on this planet in Hawaii, he is nurturing himself.”

Contact Nathan Christofaris at [email protected].