Erin Belieu on W.S. Merwin February 2, 2010 – Tags: , ,

This is the last in a series of guest posts on Book Patrol featuring the four poets who will be sharing the stage with W.S. Merwin at the upcoming “W.S. Merwin and Friends” benefit for Copper Canyon Press at Seattle’s Town Hall.

Erin Belieu is the author of three collections of poetry, all published by Copper Canyon Press. Her first book, Infanta published in1995, was selected for the National Poetry Series by Hayden Carruth. Her other books are One Above and One Below and Black Box, which was a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Award.

Belieu also co-edited the anthology The Extraordinary Tide: New Poetry by American Women, published by Columbia University Press in 2001. She currently teaches at Florida State University. Belieu also took part in the astounding Wave Books Poetry Bus Tour of 2006.

Belieu on Merwin:

I first found W.S. Merwin’s poems when I was 13 and started clandestinely browsing through my father’s old books from his university days. They were buried on a bookshelf deep in the detritus of our basement. I remember thumbing through Lolita, Machiavelli’s The Prince, and the hefty doorstops of Finnegan’s Wake and Miller’s The Rosy Crucifixion. Among these was one appealingly slim volume with a peculiar name, The Lice. I remember running back upstairs with the first real collection of poetry I’d ever encountered and stashing it in my bookcase behind 50 volumes of Nancy Drew. I’m not certain why I felt the need to hide it— my parents weren’t the kind to censor me—but perhaps even then I suspected that lovely privacy that exists in the exchange between poet and reader.

Still, I can imagine some saying The Lice is no book for a child—and it’s true, I can’t think of a book that both burns and freezes with such a haunting and oracular music. But then, who better than a child to comprehend the psychic and material damage adults inflict on our world? What more natural witness? I’d read it one poem at a time, unnerved, but pleased by my disturbance. While I knew I misunderstood much, I had faith in that misunderstanding. I didn’t know until years later that this is what Keats identified as negative capability.

Nearly 15 years ago, another great poet, Hayden Carruth, said to me “Poetry is a long distance race.” I believe I’ve finally grown into knowing what he meant: the hardest part of living your life as a poet is in continuing to truly see the world when the difficult business of life is doing everything possible to numb you into sleep. As a friend of mine’s mother always says “It’s a good life if you don’t give in.” That W.S. Merwin continues to make such empathic and relevant poems seems a kind of miracle to me. His poems are a gift and an example of what can be seen if we have the will to keep our eyes wide open.


Belieu talks about her poem ‘Last Trip to the Island’ at How a Poem Happens

Previously on Book Patrol:

W.S. Merwin & Friends: Four Poets Share the Stage and Their Thoughts

On Merwin-
Ben Lerner
Valzhyna Mort
Matthew Zapruder

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