115th Annual Conference - Honolulu, Hawaii
Friday, November 10 - Sunday, November 12, 2017

Approaching with Palms Wide Open: Gardening Time in W. S. Merwin's Garden Time

Marc Malandra, Biola University

W. S. Merwin's Garden Time is the latest volume of poetry from one of our planet's most noble and articulate spokespeople. In his establishment of the Conservancy, and in Garden Time in particular, William Merwin is planting literal seeds so that others will have the opportunity to plant metaphorical ones.


W. S. Merwin is a national, even an international, treasure: with more than fifty books to his name, an ouvre that includes several well received works of prose, a number of acclaimed translations, and twenty seven volumes of poetry, including such ground breaking works as The LiceBook of Nightmares, the epic poem The Folding Cliffs, and numerous others. Merwin has been awarded every conceivable award for his poetry, including two Pulitzer Prizes. He was appointed by President Barack Obama to serve as the seventeenth Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. William Merwin, student of Pound and Graves, friend of Hughes and Plath, and associate of Deep Image poets like Robert Bly and James Wright, creates poetry in which the frangible nature of language and being, time and experience come to the forefront. Nonetheless, despite his overwhelming presence in twentieth and twenty first century poetry, Merwin's legacy may very well be found in the Conservancy that bears his name. The Merwin Conservancy has taken upon itself the task of preserving the great palm trees of the Hawaiian Islands, and even the wider world.

            His most recent collection of verse, Garden Time, is a work attached very specifically to the poet's literal home, and the idea of home itself, in richly provocative ways.  Such a focus arises from the poet's life long fascination with places of abode; it also signifies that the work itself is a kind of residence, a reflective overview of a poetic life well lived. The two terms of its title allow readers to view it as a work focused on a loci, as mentioned above, the real world analogy being Merwin's forest sustaining Maui home, but readers are also invited to see garden as an active verb, inviting us into the performative work of "gardening time," cultivating its richness, and harvesting it for those shadows of the eternal that inhabit this volumes pages. The topoi of the garden is primordial, set as it were outside of time, in the world of the synchronic. My goal in the following essay is to explore some of the enchanting rooms of Merwin's most recent volume, and to give an homage of sorts to one of our planet's most noble and articulate spokespeople. Ezra Pound once told Merwin to "focus on the seeds, not the twigs," a piece of advice that pushed the poet to pursue a highly successful career as a translator. In terms of his poetic output, his establishment of the Conservancy, and Garden Time in particular, William Merwin is planting literal seeds so that others will have the opportunity to plant metaphorical ones. The palms and their roots loosely help frame, rather than bind together, this characteristically unpunctuated poetic foray into Merwin's plot of paradise, the home he helped to design (which might include by analogy the poetic output this writer has previously established, the "rooms" of his prolific and unique verse), and the palm conservancy that could ultimately be this writer's greatest, most influential, and longest lasting legacy.


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