An Interview with Pulitzer-Prize Winner W.S. Merwin

Tell W.S. Merwin that you've heard his Pulitzer Prize-winning collection "The Shadow of Sirius" described as a study in time and memory and he will chide you for your obtuseness, though he is too kind to use the word.

"You could say that about any personal book," the poet said from his home in Hawaii, not long after he learned he had won the prize for the second time. "We're made of the past. I don't know how we write about anything else."

"The Shadow of Sirius" is divided into three sections. The first, Merwin said, is "roughly my earliest years, from inside, as seen from now." The final section deals with the latter days of his life and "the middle bit is short elegies, all for dogs." These he wrote out of "a desperation of grief" that could not otherwise be expressed.

Poetry begins with the inexpressible, he said, whether it's "lust, love, anger, grief or loss." The key is that "in trying to say it, you don't say it -- you make something else that represents it."

At 81, Merwin has long been one of the most honored American poets. His first Pulitzer came in 1971. Still, winning this time was unexpected and "wonderful -- I'm very happy."

Yet the most rewarding thing "is when somebody tells me that a particular poem of mine meant a great deal to them. That's what I want."

-- Bob Thompson

By Rachel Hartigan Shea |  April 22, 2009; 1:51 PM ET
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I heard Merwin read almost ten years ago at Rockhurst. With his pretty face and white hair, he reminded me somewhat of Frost. He was very charming in that performance. Merwin's also known, of course, for his flair with languages: I remember him rattling off all those foreign phrases of Eliot's as those they were English.

Posted by: lheffelkcrrcom | April 23, 2009 11:02 AM

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