cover image Present Company

Present Company

W. S. Merwin, . . Copper Canyon, $22 (137pp) ISBN 978-1-55659-227-0

Merwin's 24th volume of poems is his first since last year's massive new-and-collected Migration : it may be the much-lauded poet's clearest and most unified in many years, and it is almost certainly his most moving. Following Kenneth Koch's New Addresses , its 101 poems address a person, place, object or abstraction ("To the Shadow," "To the Stone Paddock by the Far Barn"). Almost all seek, and many achieve, a deliberate pathos over the passage of time: "I will wait and you can follow alone," concludes Merwin (who won the 1970 Pulitzer Prize) in "To Lili's Walk," "and between us the night has come and gone." Often stark, at times nearly imageless, the poems recall particular moments in Merwin's own life, comment on the act of writing or introduce gentle humor. ("To the Consolations of Philosophy" begins "Thank you but/ not just at the moment.") Some of the best, such as "To My Grandfathers," remember dead family members and friends. Short-lined free verse pieces "To the Soul" and "To Forgetting" may become new anthology signatures or provoke new attention to this elder statesman of American verse. The book's greatest weakness may be its length; so many lyric poems with similar structures and near-identical tones make it harder for the best few to stand out. (Sept.)