Monday, March 7, 2011

Michael Silverblatt in conversation with W.S. Merwin

 I find conversations with writers about their work and process to be immensely helpful to me in my own studio--at times more helpful in truth than reading/hearing visual artists talk about art and working.  The similarities between writing and making art provide the initial connection, but the differences between making a world out of words and making a world out of objects/materials/spaces/ allow for the clarifying distance of a slightly different perspective.  I see what I do anew when viewed a bit obliquely through the thoughts of a writer.  To that end, my favorite source of writer conversations is Bookworm, Michael Silverblatt's (dare I say brilliant) radio program/podcast on KCRW.  I've not yet found a podcast of artist conversations that is this good, though I am happy to be proved wrong if you have any good sources.

Here's part of recent conversation with our poet laureate, W.S. Merwin.  

Michael Silverblatt: I have a final question.  It would once have been impossible for a poet to easily accept the invitation to be a country's poet laureate, this country's poet laureate.  It certainly once would not have been possible for you.  What makes it possible now?
W.S. Merwin: When I was invited to do it the terms of it were--we talked about that--and I was asked whether there was a theme that I would want to have to string the whole thing on, and I said, yes, if I accept to do it that will be one of the main reasons why I would do that, and the theme would be something I want to talk about.  My words won't change anyone's behavior but the connection between the human imagination, which I think is the one really distinctive thing that humanity has, not intelligence or language--both of which are dubious in different ways, but imagination--the thing that allows us to sit here in the Palomar Hotel in Los Angeles and be distressed about the homeless people and Darfur and the whales dying of starvation in the Pacific and elated by a little girl getting a prize for playing Mozart in China when she's seven years old.  Other animals have this quality but it's not primal in their lives.  It's not the center, and it's what makes us.  Each one of us is here in our imaginations seeing the world a little bit differently.  I think this is our great talent.  It's the source of compassion and it's the source of our respect for the rest of life and for our, oh I would say more than that, our gratitude for it, our love of the rest of life.  And if we don't have that, we are in every sense deprived.  We're narrowed down to little selfish blobs destroying the world around us and in so doing destroying ourselves.

1 comment:

  1. By coincidence, I had just read this Auden quote before checking the blog: “Artists and politicians would get along better at a time of crisis like the present, if the latter would only realize that the political history of the world would have been the same if not a poem had been written, nor a picture painted, nor a bar of music composed.”