An Online Interview With W S Merwin

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An Online Interview With W. S. Merwin Essay, Research Paper from Artful Dodge Daniel Bourne: Your poem on Berryman last night was interesting. It seemed rather un-Merwinlike, a very traditional focus, little elliptical movement. Is this a kind of departure, something new, or a return to the roots of an earlier literature, with that kind of poem? W.S. Merwin: I have no idea. I don’t have any ideological sense of what is Merwinlike or un-Merwinlike. I’m always happy to find I’m writing a poem which is different from anything I’ve written before, but I don’t think you can really write out a paradigm. To be surprised is to find new directions and new regions you haven’t been into yet, to be surprised by your own writing,that’s what I would always be hoping for. DB:

Does that poem surprise you more than any other poem you’ve written recently? Merwin: No. I don’t feel that very much about my own writing. I very much don’t want to repeat myself or imitate myself or find myself doing something I’ve already done before. If anything feels as if that’s what’s happening, then I try to move away from it. DB: Do you see yourself coming from any springboard as a poet or translator? Did you start with any firs principles or how long was it until they developed? Merwin: Probably very few first principles. I started out realizing I didn’t know very much and still don’t know very much. At some distance, translation obviously has always been of great importance to writing to me. I went to see Ezra Pound when I was nineteen or so. He told me

something that I think I really already knew. He said that it was important to regard writing as not a chance or romantic or inspired, (in the occasional sense) thing, but rather a kind of spontaneity which arises out of discipline and continual devotion to something; and translation is a way of keeping one close to what one is doing, to the possibilities of one’s own language. I don’t translate very much anymore but for years I tried to translate all the time, a certain amount, and just how that’s affected my writing, I don’t know. I didn’t try to imitate while I was translating or anything like that. The familiarity with one’s medium, a familiarity with language and with the practical details of dealing with tension and language which come out of translating- I

think are of great importance to me in writing. What I’ve chosen to translate is as much a matter of affinity that I recognize as I went along as it is an influence on what I actually wrote. I’m sure it’s worked both ways, but I haven’t tried to follow it. Just as I don’t really theorize much about my own writing, I don’t even pay too much analytical attention to it. What I’m really interested in is not what I’ve written but what I haven’t written, the next poem, if there is one. I don’t know if there is a next one. It’s the part that doesn’t know that I believe it comes from, if it comes at all. I don’t do it by forming an idea of what the next poem is supposed to be or what kind of poem it’s supposed to be or where it’s supposed to go, or anything

of the kind. DB: Are you afraid that there won’t be another poem? Merwin: I feel that it’s quite possible there won’t be another one. I hope there will be. But I don’t understand people who can program themselves to the point where they can predict another one. Of course, you can sit down after years of discipline and years of writing and you can write a poem. What kind of poem is it going to be if it is as deliberate as that? I don’t want to sound spooky or romantic about it either. I think that the sitting down and trying to write is terribly important, the regularity with which one works. If you do try to write regularly, you will notice that the results are irregular. There are times when you just can’t stop writing. Everything contributes to it. I suspect that