Sunday, February 07, 2010

Meeting W.S. Merwin

Jennifer and I had plans to go to the library today. As we sat at the dinner table last night, with hubby reading the day's Register-Guard and I reading this week's Eugene Weekly, I was delighted to find out that a very special guest was going to be at the library today. I started reading the article about W.S. Merwin and his thoughts on creating poems, thinking that it was there for his newest book, but I learned he was being written up in the EW because he was giving a reading at the library! On the same day we planned to go there! Very cool!

As I told Jennifer about this very famous poet who we could meet at the library (he has won two Pulitzers, after all), I started to get excited about this taking place. How neat to meet a poet whose work I have long admired! I have met other well-published poets before, but this particular poet is one I have read several times and was anxious about meeting.

Today, however, things didn't start out so good. I woke up with excruciating pain in my hip. It hurt to move around and bend over and the pain eventually moved down into my foot. The pain was so bad, I couldn't even stand on both feet. We ended up missing church because it just hurt too much for me to move around. I had planned to call the library to see if they had an ASL interpreter or a notetaker available to assist me during the reading, just to let me know if he was saying anything else besides reading a poem, but I was not able to find the chance to do that. When the time came for me to leave, I was ready to call it off because I didn't have an interpreter or notetaker. How on earth could I "attend" a reading without one? What if he wanted to say something to me when I met him, and I couldn't understand him?? I so wanted the chance to talk with him.

Well, maybe I was ready to give up this opportunity, but Jennifer and my hubby weren't. They knew how much it meant to me to go and even to meet him. Jennifer said, "You always tell me that if I really want to do something, then just do it." I kept thinking, this is different. I don't have a notetaker! Still, they encouraged me to go. I even started to feel depressed just thinking I would miss out on this, because I knew an opportunity like this might not come up again, so it was not very hard for them to convince me to go even if going meant I'd have communication problems.

When we got to the library, the parking lot was PACKED. There was nowhere to park at all. I got nervous because I wasn't sure I'd have change to park at a parking meter but I ended up digging a quarter and a dime out of my wallet, which gave us enough time to walk to a liquor store and get change for a dollar. That settled, we walked to the library and followed the signs advertising the reading. When we got to the second floor, I started to wonder how I might find where it was.

That wasn't very difficult. All I had to do was find the crowd. And what a crowd it was! One area of the second floor was filled with people sitting and standing as they listened. We moved to an area where I could at least see him read (hey, if I can't hear him, I'd like to at least see him!) then Jen sat down to draw in her notebook as I stood there and watched. Eventually, she stopped drawing and started listening, too. He was too far away for me to lipread so I just observed the reading and the audience. It looked like he paused between reading poems from his book and I noticed some people in the crowd smiling, laughing and nodding their heads. I really wondered what he was saying. I watched people listening to him read. Some of them sat with their eyes closed, losing themselves in his words, and some just sat with bowed heads as they listened. I wondered why they didn't look at the poet as he read his poems, though many people did look at him.

As Mr. Merwin read his poems, I noticed how he rarely looked up. He seemed to have a sort of liveliness to his mood as he read the poems, moving his hand about in the air and sometimes even leaning forward. Later, as we moved closer, I noticed he was wearing glasses as he read (he wasn't wearing them in the EW picture). I also noticed how he rarely paused to drink water and I wondered if his throat was dry. He read for over an hour, selecting poems from what must be his newest book as well as poems he drew from a file folder and poems he had in what appeared to be a bound manuscript. I thought, that's a great idea! Include new and forthcoming material at a reading. I'll have to remember that.

After the reading, everyone gave him a standing ovation. People clapped for a long time and I smiled, thankful that everybody was there to show him what a great poet he is and how much everyone loves his work. He deserved that standing ovation!

Because we were running out of time with the parking meter, Jennifer and I hurried to where we could meet him. He mostly talked with Jennifer and he seemed so captivated by what she had to say. I thought it was so cute how he was so taken with her and really focused his attention on her. I also got to talk with him, shaking his hand and telling him my name, telling him that it was good to meet him and that I am a big fan of his work. Afterward, Jennifer got his autograph in her notebook (since we didn't get to grab one of his books to sign for us) and we were both beaming as we left the library. We thought that was an incredible experience. We just met W.S. Merwin! That was awesome and so very, very worth showing up for.

As we went to get lunch, I asked Jennifer what she talked about with him. She said she told him I'm a huge fan of his poetry, that I'm a poet, too, and she mentioned my poetry book coming out soon. She told him the title of the book and he said he "might be interested" in reading it. As she told me all this, I felt a little frustrated. Sure I was happy she plugged my book, but I wanted her to be able to say something about herself, too. So I asked, "Did you tell him anything else?"

She thought for a minute then she said, "I told him about my poem."

I smiled, a wave of relief flooding through me. "That's good. What else?"

"I told him I write poetry, too, and he said keep it up."

Yay! I'm glad he told her that! Let's hope those words have a greater lasting impression on my young poet than the experience of meeting him does.


Millie said...

Omg! That is awesome! See! Times like these you need a haearing aid!! lol But really, that's great you got to meet him.

Dawn Colclasure said...

Yes, it is. I still can't believe I got to meet such a legendary poet! I definitely need to get a move on in trying to find a hearing aid I could comfortably wear.