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Unchopping a Tree


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About the Author

W. S. Merwin, poet, translator, and environmental activist, is one of the most widely read--and imitated--poets in America. The son of a Presbyterian minister, whom he began writing hymns for at the age of five, Merwin went to Europe as a young man and developed a love of languages that led to work as a literary translator. Over the years his poetic voice has moved from the more formal and medieval--influenced somewhat by Robert Graves and the medieval
poetry he was then translating--to a more distinctly American voice, following his two years in Boston where he got to know Robert Lowell, Sylvia Plath, Ted Hughes, Adrienne Rich, and Donald Hall, all of whom were breaking out of the rhetoric of the 1950s. Merwin's recent poetry is perhaps his most personal, arising from his deeply held beliefs. He is not only profoundly anti-imperialist, pacifist, and environmentalist but also possessed by an intimate feeling for landscape and language and the ways land and language interflow. His latest poems are densely imagistic and full of an intimate awareness of the natural world.

His first book, A Mask for Janus, was chosen by W. H. Auden in 1952 for the Yale Younger Poets Prize. The Carrier of Ladders received the 1970 Pulitzer Prize. Among his other books of poems are The Drunk in the Furnace, The Moving Target, The Lice, Flower & Hand, The Compass Flower, Feathers from the Hill, Opening the Hand, The Rain in the Trees, Travels, The Vixen, The Lost Upland, Unframed Originals, The Folding Cliffs, The River Sound, The Pupil, a translation of Dante's Purgatorio the critically lauded translation of Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, as well as Present Company, which won the Rebekah Johnson Bobbitt National Prize for Poetry, Migration: Selected Poems 1951-2001, which won the National Book Award, and The Shadow of Sirius, which received the Pulitzer Prize (Merwin's second). A two-volume set, The Collected Poems of W. S. Merwin, was published in May 2013. Merwin's prose includes The Mays of Ventadorn, part of the National Geographic Directions series, The Ends of the Earth (essays), and the memoir Summer Doorways. Recent reissues of his books are The First Four Books of Poems, Spanish Ballads, translations of Jean Follain's poetry collection Transparence of the World and Antonio Porchia's Voices, and The Book of Fables, a reissue of (The Miner's Pale Children and Houses and Travelers). Forthcoming are the poetry collection Before Morning (Copper Canyon, April 2014) and a booklength essay, Unchopping a Tree (Trinity University Press, March 2014). Merwin was named poetry consultant to the Library of Congress in 1999, along with poets Rita Dove and Louise Gl ck. He has been honored as laureate of the Struga Poetry Evenings Festival in Macedonia and as recipient of the international Golden Wreath Award, the 2004 Lannan Lifetime Achievement Award, the Pulitzer Prize (twice), the National Book Award, the Tanning Prize, the Bollingen Prize, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, and the first Zbigniew Herbert International Literary Award, in 2013. He was appointed U.S. poet laureate in 2010. Merwin has spent the last thirty years planting nineteen acres with over 800 species of palm, creating a sustainable forest; the property recently became the Merwin Conservancy (http: // He lives, writes, and gardens on the island of Maui, in Hawai'i. Liz Ward is a professor of art and art history at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, and an artist who works primarily in painting and drawing with an emphasis on works on paper. She received her M.F.A. in painting from the University of Houston and her B.F.A. in printmaking from the University of New Mexico. The art included in W. S. Merwin's Unchopping a Tree is from her series "The Cellular Life of a Tree." She lives in Castroville, Texas.


"W. S. Merwin, the Pulitzer-winning former U.S. poet laureate, captures the essence of treeness in the delightful and insightful Unchopping a Tree... Lyrical drawings of the cellular structure of a tree by Liz Ward complement and enhance the humble beauty of Merwin's descriptions."--Shelf Awareness "Suppose you chopped down a tree and then regretted it because, after all, a tree is a beautiful thing in nature. What to do? Firewood? Board feet? Or, you might consider unchopping it by following the instructions of W. S. Merwin, a man of proven ecological insight and robust poetic tendencies, to put it back together, leaf by leaf, limb by limb, splinter by splinter."--ForeWord Magazine "Merwin is a dedicated environmentalist who has created a preserve for palm species near Haiku, and in his sparse prose he uses the image of raising a fallen tree as a device to explore themes of renewal and preservation."--Honolulu Star-Advertiser "Part prose poem, part ecology lesson and part Zen instruction manual, Unchopping a Tree shares a mystical blueprint for healing the planet--the intricate, often invisible web of biological life--that our species so casually destroys. The book is made even more unique by artist Liz Ward's contribution of 11 delicate drawings depicting the cellular life of trees."--Cascadia Weekly "This collection of pristine prose poems and delicately rendered art is surely a reminder that perhaps our wanton destruction of the planet can be reversed."--Rain Taxi

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