7 April 2017: The Ever-Changing Role of the Artist: An ongoing conversation & sources of inspiration –– W.S. Merwin

In preparation for facilitating the public screening of the 2014 documentary film on W. S. Merwin,  Even Though the Whole World Is Burning on May 8 at the Film Row Center at Columbia College Chicago in conjunction with the Merwin Conservancy, The Canary Project, and the new American Writers Museum, I’ve been reading Merwin’s collection of essays The Ends of the Earth. In the essay “The Tree on One Tree Hill”, I found particular inspiration from this: “his words convey a sense that he is not standing outside the world he is portraying but is an intimately and endlessly concerned part of it…”. (p150).

Merwin was once asked what social role a poet plays—if any—in America. He commented: “I think there’s a kind of desperate hope built into poetry now that one really wants, hopelessly, to save the world. One is trying to say everything that can be said for the things that one loves while there’s still time. I think that’s a social role, don’t you? … We keep expressing our anger and our love, and we hope, hopelessly perhaps, that it will have some effect. But I certainly have moved beyond the despair, or the searing, dumb vision that I felt after writing The Lice; one can’t live only in despair and anger without eventually destroying the thing one is angry in defense of. The world is still here, and there are aspects of human life that are not purely destructive, and there is a need to pay attention to the things around us while they are still around us. And you know, in a way, if you don’t pay that attention, the anger is just bitterness.”

The Poetry Foundation: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poets/detail/w-s-merwin

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