Friday, April 28, 2006

WS Merwin

The Pupil is one of Merwin’s latest works. Merwin is one of my favorite poets, so I was excited for the opportunity to examine his work deeper than a casual read. That excitement quickly faded. Merwin has mostly gone the way of Olds, Ashbery, and Collins to patented poems. His pieces still pack a lot of punch, but each one has the same punch, the same point, the same things at stake – the entire book falls over beneath the redundancies. Don’t get me wrong, take two Merwin poems and put them against two poems of most other poets and Merwin’s are much better, but he has lost his ability to play deep. Where he used to experiment with taking punctuation out, there is now no punctuation in the book at all. The Pupil has points of utter brilliance and most poems are gorgeous and powerful, but the entire book is slick and over-edited. While the poems read nicely out loud, they seem to lack the raw quality he used to strive for.

“Prophecy” opens the book with a harbinger of the type of poems to come. This short poem repeats sings too many times and only one image flies: “all the white days that were brought to us one / by one that turned to colors around us.” The poem is good, but lacks originality. Merwin’s typical themes of death and beauty are the main themes in this work as well, and these poems are redundant in their pursuit of the waters.

Where Merwin’s waters and contemplative poems used to be his pinnacle, now those are old and his descriptions are brilliant. Later in the book he gets into these narrative and descriptive pieces that are simply stunning. “Once in Spring” can be seen as the transition, though the line between contemplative and narrative poems is not clearly defined. “Once in Spring” is one of my favorite and least favorite pieces in the work. The first and third stanzas are orgasmic in their brilliance, but the second stanza bogs down in repetitions of insipid words. I love the concept of the second stanza, the way he likens the rebirth of a sentence to the efforts of Pierre and Jacques Dupuy in preserving words and books, but he repeats too much and the stanza lacks raw power. This poem can be seen as indicative of the entire book in its coupling of amazing and boring.

I cannot do what Merwin does in his contemplative pieces, but I understood that he could pull off subtle strength of words four or five books ago and now he needs to move on. Experimentation is integral to a poet’s life and writing, but Merwin has forgotten how. This is a great book, but it lacks variety, rawness, and originality. Taken one by one, the poems fly wonderfully, but in the flock of The Pupil they plow into the side of a mountain.

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