Université de Paris/ ENS Ulm, Paris, France, October 20-21, 2022
Plenary speaker: Ed Folsom, University of Iowa
“Is it I who have come to this age /or this age that has come to me.” In “Not early or late,” a poem from his last collection Garden Time, W. S. Merwin’s question speaks to the convening of this first, and none too early, European conference on the late poet. A body and a life of writing, its readers, come together to meet, with the hope that new or as yet unexplored paths to his oeuvre will emerge or merge with those that have, over time, begun to be opened.
Poet, prose writer, translator, born in NYC and died in Maui, Hawai’i, W. S. Merwin (1927-2019) lived many years in France, in England, in the United States, and his writing life travelled across numerous borders that link yet separate political activism, ecological investment, the six decades of writing in its different spheres (poetry, prose, translation), and the many decades as gardener, in France but also in the northern Maui palm garden that he created. Across national borders, the borders of genres, and of time (from the deep time of volcanoes to the present extinction, from the indigenous stories that he relayed to the ballads of the troubadours that he loved and translated, and to a poetry strangely dedicated to the present), some of Merwin’s artistic particularity might stem from his geographical and temporal range across the history of poetry: a poetry that dwells as much in specific regions — be they in France, in Europe, in the “flagstones” of New York City or the spaces inscribed with the dire legacy of U.S. westward movement, or, yet again, in the ecozone of Hawai’in history and climate — as in the inexhaustible resources of memories of his own life experiences, from childhood to the most ephemeral instants stored and restored in countless poems.
A settler upset at human settlements, the divided Merwin is an agitator of the line, he worries the contours of Western epistemologies, unsettles fundamental distinctions between silence and sound, voice and writing, sadness and joy, the one and the same. The place and time of the unformulated, the dark, crosses over into the enlightened realm of knowledge. And yet Merwin is far from the disheveled line of a Ginsberg or an Olson: who, going back to W. H. Auden and at least on to Harold Bloom or Jorie Graham, has not recognized his technique, his taut control, on the line? Maybe in his unsettling lives and lines lies his quiet legacy, the perfection of a poetic form.
Merwin’s a borderer. His poetry eludes our grasp more than it sets up lines of opposition between protest and acquiescence, the thing and its shadow, the name and what it names, the self and the world. Rid of the punctuating axe that cuts the continuum of the sensible, his poetry of respiration leaves the reader free to select yet to unsettle the syntax, to embrace the “shadow questions” in the twilight. Merwin’s writing does not discriminate so much as it quavers back and forth between darkness and daylight, between the elusive “now” and the delusively foreign country of the past, when forgetting is the condition of memory, when leaving is the only thing you can keep across the non-divide that death is.
“It is not until later/that you have to be young,” Merwin wrote. Reading Merwin between borders and across times invites us to listen to it once and again, “once later”, to its throb, or, in a word, Merwin’s word, to the throb of “it. ”
This call for papers welcomes all approaches to this writer’s corpus of poetry, prose or translation.
Deadline for all submissions: January 31, 2022.
Proposals (300 words in English or French and a short bio of maximum 100 words) to be sent to: [email protected]
Proposals will be reviewed by the Conference Committee
Notification of acceptance will be sent by March 15
Hélène Aji, ENS-Ulm
Eric Athenot, Université UPEC
Vincent Broca, Université Paris 8
Olivier Brossard, Université Gustave Eiffel
Antoine Cazé, Université de Paris
Thomas Dutoit, Université de Lille
Xavier Kalck, Université de Lille
Daniel Katz, University of Warwick
Abigail Lang, Université de Paris
Françoise Palleau-Papin, Université Sorbonne Paris Nord
Cécile Roudeau, Université de Paris
Juliette Utard, Sorbonne Université
Anne-Laure Tissut, Université de Rouen
Béatrice Trottignon, Université Paris Dauphine