Book by Merwin, W.S.
One may imagine Rimbaud late in life at his Sudanese trading post, composing the sort of poems W.S. Merwin offers in Travels
, winner of the 1994 Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize. Employing a casually somber prosody of forward-falling lines and parachuted beginnings, and unified by what Elizabeth Bishop called "Questions of Travel," these poems unwind in long sentences reflecting long ideas. If the universe can be glimpsed in a grain of sand, then to Merwin a life of travel can be evoked by a single question, as when the tropical agriculturist Gregorio Bondar, returning from the Amazon to his native Ukraine in "The Moment of Green," is asked,
why he had come home to be shot
which they went on telling him he
seemed to have done and the answer
was something he could no longer
remember now that he was back
where words had always known him.
Swaying between tropic sensuality and spaghetti-western brutality, "The Real World of Manuel Còrdova" narrates the true story of a Spaniard kidnapped by indigenous Amazon River people. Although he ultimately flees, Còrdova is initiated into mystical knowledge in exchange for becoming his captors' go-between with the West, trading rubber to satisfy a desperate thirst for guns. These and other similar long poems illustrate Merwin's theme of renewal through danger, while shorter poems find him overcoming fears of becoming lost or regretting culpability in the many ways we poison the earth. Sonorous as Poe, restless as Bruce Chatwin, Merwin offers new ways of seeing our vulnerable relations with each other and the world. --Edward Skoog