This week I’ve been reading W. S. Merwin’s new book, Garden Time. It’s beautiful and calm and melancholy, just what I needed this week. Mr. Merwin is 89, and losing his eyesight; I read that these poems were dictated to his wife, Paula.
He’s one of this country’s most prolific writers; I think I first read his work when I was in high school (his translation of Neruda’s Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair) and then again a few years later with his introduction to a volume of selected poems by Thomas Wyatt. Mr. Merwin’s own poem “Berryman” is one of my favorites, one of my writerly touchstones.
Anyway, “The Morning,” the poem that opens Garden Time, is worth the price of admission. I love it, and its phrases have been flitting in my mind for days. I hope you’ll love it too.
What are you reading this week?
Ever since I read The Round House (brief review here), I’ve been on the lookout for Louise Erdrich’s books. In Vermont a few weeks ago, at Brattleboro Books, I found a copy of Jacklight (1984), her first collection of poetry, which, though it’s now thirty years old, still feels fresh, full of sharp observations and unexpected turns of phrase. I’ve been reading it slowly, finishing up last week. The poems tell stories that reflect Ms. Erdrich’s Native American and German American background; several are accompanied by short, explanatory notes or epigraphs, which is a poetic practice I happen to love.
I recommend the whole collection, but this week I’ll point you toward “Turtle Mountain Reservation,” the last poem in the book. Dedicated to the poet’s grandfather, it’s a powerful meditation on heritage, aging, and change.
Photo courtesy Breno Machado via Unsplash
A few weeks ago, I was reading about contemporary Irish poetry (living life in the fast lane, as always), and I learned a little bit about Paula Meehan, named the Ireland Professor of Poetry in 2013. The Irish Times had a feature about her this winter, in which Ciaran Carty wrote,
“It’s more than 40 years, and nine books, since Meehan emerged from childhood in the inner city Dublin tenements to give voice to the disenfranchised everywhere, less in anger than with compassion and an intuitive understanding that, through verse, imbued their lives and memories with mythic dignity.”
Sounds pretty good to me.
Professor Meehan’s poems are a little tricky to find–she doesn’t have an entry at The Poetry Foundation, which is my go-to poetry site, but you can read “Ashes” at Poets.org. The poem that really caught my eye was this one: “My Father Perceived as a Vision of St Francis,” over at The Poetry Project, which is a site devoted to Irish poetry. It’s a lovely poem, anchored in everyday detail, but transcendent all the same.
On vacation earlier this month, Mr. O and I visited the well-appointed Island Books in Middletown, Rhode Island. One of the things I liked best about this little shop was its poetry selection, which included recommended titles handpicked by the bookstore’s staff. Thanks to their recommendation, I picked up Jane Hirshfield’s 2011 book Come, Thief, which I highly recommend.
In this collection, Ms. Hirshfield focuses on small scenes, both natural and domestic, as she reflects on attentiveness, change, and beauty; of special note are several exquisite poems about aging and the inevitable failures of body and mind.
In “The Promise,” which you can read here, the speaker wishes that things both small and beautiful (a cut flower, a spider, a leaf) and large and wondrous (the body, the earth itself) would not change or fade or leave, while acknowledging the inevitability of those kinds of losses. It’s a wistful but lovely poem.