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National Poetry Month is celebrated by W.S. Merwin’s Conservancy Green Room series

By Staff | Apr 14, 2016

“Merwin (right) is a poet whose work changed American poetry, and changed my sense of what poems can do and be when I was just starting to find my own voice,” said renowned poet Jane Hirshfield (left). PHOTO BY TOM SEWELL.

KAHULUI – The month of April, National Poetry Month, is a time to view the unique and infinite ways of looking at the world. The W.S. Merwin Conservancy Green Room series presented one of the nation’s most renowned poets, essayists and translators, Jane Hirshfield, to kick off the celebration.

The Merwin Conservancy, a nonprofit organization, was founded by Maui’s own W.S. Merwin, distinguished U.S. Poet Laureate, translator, ecologist and 40-year resident of Haiku.

“The mission of the Merwin Conservancy is to preserve the living legacy of W.S. Merwin, his poet’s home, and his planted palm forest, as a place of retreat and study for the next generation of botanists and writers,” said Jason Denhart, executive director of the Merwin Conservancy.

“Merwin has said ‘poetry is a way of looking at the world for the first time,’ meaning that poetry is a process of seeing, exploring, learning and finding; new ideas, new questions and new discoveries.”

The evening began with a beautiful performance on the erhu, or Chinese violin, by Hong Zhou followed by Hirshfield’s readings.

“It was a huge pleasure for me to read for the Merwin Conservancy in their Green Room series,” said Hirshfield.

“However, it was also amazing to visit the conservancy itself, along with seeing William and Paula Merwin in the house they built decades ago. In addition, it was lovely being among the trees, now a fully thriving jungle that Merwin planted by hand, one by one.”

“Merwin is a poet whose work changed American poetry, and changed my sense of what poems can do and be, when I was just starting to find my own voice,” Hirshfield said. “His own poems are fire balloons of the spirit and heart, almost weightless, ethereally beautiful, and carrying immensity cupped in a hand, then let free.”

Hirshfield has a distinctive voice and an honest vision. Her humanity, evoking the richness of her authentic inner life, includes self-criticism, genuine humility and a penetrating interest in the sciences.

“For my reading I chose poems of the environment, its resilience and celebration, and also the grief of its peril,” Hirshfield noted. “Maui is abundant with examples of both. But swimming in those clear falling waters at dawn restores hope, makes it impossible not to hope.”

Hirshfield, an ordained lay Zen practitioner, perceives fresh perspectives flowing through our permeability and interconnection. Her alertness to the subtle music of poetry articulates the place of silence, a center point for intimate spirituality.

Her work has been referred to as “radiant and passionate” by the New York Times Book Review, and “magnificent and distinctive” by the Irish Times. Other reviewers have called her “incandescent,” “ethically aware,” “insightful and eloquent,” and, as conveying “succinct wisdom.” Her subjects range from the metaphysical and passionate; to the political, ecological and scientific; to subtle unfolding of daily life and experience.

“She has been a Guggenheim Fellow, a Rockefeller Fellow and a Fellow of the National Endowment for the Arts,” Denhart noted. The Academy of American Poets, where she is now a chancellor, awarded her a fellowship for her “distinguished poetic achievement,” an honor shared with Robert Frost and Ezra Pound. She has won England’s T. S. Eliot Prize.

Her books, collections of poetry and essays, have won numerous awards. Her most recent and eighth book of poetry, “The Beauty,” is long listed for the National Book Award and named a best book of the year by The San Francisco Chronicle. In her most recent book of essays, “Ten Windows: How Great Poems Transform the World,” she investigates the power of poetry to move us and change us. Her earlier collection of essays, “Nine Gates: Entering the Mind of Poetry,” is considered a classic.